Car Guys VS Bean Counters

Bob Lutz
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Taylor Castle

Things started auspiciously on my first day of work, September 1, 2001. I was handed what by all accounts was the best administrative support team in the company: Betty Gonko, administrative assistant, and Mark Walkuski, long-term professional chauffeur. It's hard for an outsider to slip comfortably into his or her slot in a new company; it's doubly hard when that company is of the size and complexity, and possessed of the cultural history, of General Motors. My "office" knew who to call, where to go, what to take seriously (almost everything at first, but I soon encouraged them to reduce that to about 20 percent), and what the so-called time architecture would mean to my evenings and weekends. Their efforts removed 80 percent of the reentry stress and permitted me to focus on what had to be done.

After being led downstairs to be photographed for my magnetic all-door-opening ID tag, I reported in to Rick Wagoner. In his usual calm and gentlemanly fashion, he encouraged me to go through the overly ambitious product portfolio and cancel whatever I thought wrong or useless, and, if it was too late for erasure, perhaps inject modifications that would perfume the pig sufficiently to achieve at least a modicum of market success. (I was to be only partially successful at both, but I'll get to that later.)

I soon attended the first series of meetings of the NASB (North America Strategy Board) as well as the even more exalted ASB (Automotive Strategy Board), the most senior operating committee in the company, attended by the heads of all functions, direct reporting staffs, and geographic regions. Both of these meetings, which occurred monthly, lasted hours, if not a full day. Many three-ring binders were prepared, but most presentations had been distributed electronically in advance. Myriad subjects were addressed, from market performance by region to financial results, just as in any senior-level corporate meeting. But huge amounts of time were also devoted to far less important issues not of legitimate concern to such a senior convocation, like discussions of parts reuse or cost per stamping die. I remember one hours-long, heated argument over which of a list of future senior leaders were more "functionally oriented" than "general management" in their abilities. "Both" was not an acceptable answer. Small wonder I became infamous for pulling out my BlackBerry and working on my "BrickBreaker" scores during these meetings.

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