A former GM speech writer, Albert Lee witnessed major decisions and colossal blunders made by Roger Smith. Oblivious to present problems, Smith envisioned GM leaping into the twenty-first century through technological innovations.
Any executive would have had difficulty modernizing the giant corporation and making it competitive, but Smith made numerous serious leadership and public-relations mistakes, often erring more in style and timing than in substance. He frequently appeared unaware of the concerns of two of GM’s most important constituencies, employees and customers; he only belatedly and ineptly addressed stockholders’ interests.
The book tracks several recent GM actions, including the acquisitions of Hughes Aircraft and Ross Perot’s Electronic Data Systems. Schizophrenic management decisions kept the company confused and inefficient. Smith’s dream of a fully-automated factory was eroded by reality.
Smith practically ignored one of GM’s greatest success stories, the cooperation with Toyota in the NUMMI (New United Motors Manufacturing, Inc.) plant in Fremont, California. NUMMI proved that effective management was more crucial to profitable operation than increased automation--a conclusion unacceptable to Smith.
Since several other writers have made similar judgments, it is impossible to dismiss Lee’s criticisms.