Famed auto executive Bob Lutz returned to Lawrence Tech on June 13 to praise former General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner, not to bury him in the criticism that was highlighted in a recent Detroit News review on Lutz’s new book, “Icons and Idiots: Straight Talk on Leadership.”
Lutz was an early supporter of LTU’s transportation design degree program and its director, Keith Nagara, and he has been to the campus several times. He returned on Thursday to be part of the MAIN Event creative design program that featured a display of iconic cars and an exhibition of projects by LTU transportation design students.
On June 4, a Detroit News review of the new book focused on Lutz’s criticism that Wagoner was a perfect “peacetime” CEO who was unprepared for the catastrophe that hit the company when sales plummeted 50 percent during the great recession of 2008-09. Wagoner resigned as GM’s CEO as part of the deal with the Obama administration to bail out the company during its bankruptcy
This is the first book by a GM insider that criticizes Wagoner’s tenure as CEO and chairman, according to the Detroit News review.
Lutz, who served eight years in the U.S. Marines, started his career with General Motors in Europe. He was executive vice president of sales for BMW, executive vice president of Ford Motor Company, and executive vice president at Chrysler before being brought back to GM by Wagoner as vice chairman of global product development in 2001.
While standing by his assessment that Wagoner was too nice to be a good “wartime” CEO, Lutz pointed out that the new models that have helped turn around GM were developed while Wagoner was CEO. He criticized the media for forgetting how long it takes to develop a new product and giving credit to Wagoner’s successor, Edward Whitacre, who replaced him as chairman and later CEO with the Obama administration’s blessing.
And even though Wagoner had a background in finance at GM, he had good instincts and strong leadership when it came to design decisions, according to Lutz.
Wagoner was not satisfied with the design that Lutz and his team came up with for a reintroduction of the Camaro because it looked too much like the classic Camaro from the 1960s. Lutz said that the redesign that resulted from Wagoner’s intervention was much better.
In contrast, Lutz felt that Chrysler CEO Lee Ioccoca didn’t have a good eye for design even though he was known for his skill as a marketer and a promoter.
Lutz’s new book is filled with anecdotes about leaders he has worked for in the auto industry.
He also had high praise for another speaker at the MAIN Event, Anne Asensio, vice president of design experience at Dassault Systemes. He credited her for bringing about real change in the GM corporate culture when she was executive director of design there.