The CEO’s job is often thankless, and no one was ever thanked less than Roger Smith, General Motors chairman from 1981 to 1990 and the unwitting stooge of Michael Moore’s mockumentary Roger and Me.
He started his career at the company in 1949 as a green-eyeshade guy, a lowly accounting clerk. His 1984 reorganization attempted to streamline GM’s back-of-the-house operations but was, in a word, a disaster. It sowed confusion and disorder that practically idled the automaker for months. Current CEO Rick Wagoner has said, “We’ve been 12 to 14 years digging out from that.”
Smith, a tightly wound, work-all-night autocrat, remote and austere, had the right idea but may have lacked the intuition to understand how his rip-up-the-carpet redo would affect the delicate web of informal communication that GM relied upon. Few today would dispute that GM had to consolidate the sprawling conglomerate Alfred Sloan took control of in the 1920s. If only Smith had done the job more artfully.
General Motors Company Website