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Former GM Chief Passes Away

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Roger Smith, Former G.M. Chief, Dies – New York Times

Roger Smith passed away at age 82. While he was demonized by Michael Moore and he's been criticized here for his “lights out factory” vision, Roger Smith tried many innovative things.

Jim Womack is quoted as saying:

“To his credit, he knew something was wrong there, so he began an age of frantic experimentation,”

Smith should be remembered for reaching out to Toyota's Chairman, Eiji Toyoda, leading to the creation of NUMMI. That paved the path for Toyota's North American expansion. (Detroit News photo)

This has most certainly been good for the spread of Lean beyond the automotive industry, the realization that Lean is not a “Japanese system.”

Other remembrances:

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Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and speaker who has worked in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. His most recent book is an anthology titled Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also the VP of Improvement & Innovation Services for the technology company KaiNexus.

2 Comments
  1. Anonymous says

    I’m not trying to spit on his grave, but here are the lessons I see. It sure does seem that he was a “tragic” figure as the NY Times called Smith.

    * Smith was a finance guy. GM has a long string of finance leaders, from Sloan to Wagonner. When will they learn?

    * Smith became the biggest producer of robots (GM-Fanuc). Did Toyota become the biggest producer of problem solving employees? GM’s robots smashed windshields and painted each other.

    * Interesting quote from Mark Hogan in the Free Press article about how GM “didn’t want to hear then that team concept was the way to go, rather than robots and automation” (referring to NUMMI and Toyota)

    * Buying aerospace and software companies sure didn’t seem to do much to fix the core auto business.

    * Smith was described as having a huge ego and as being autocratic. Even Ross Perot thought so (takes one to know one?). Perot told Smith his employees “feared him.” That’s definitely not that “new CEO” model you wrote about this week, huh?

    One other thought – how would the world be different today if Honda had accepted Smith’s overtures? Honda said no, so he went to Toyota. Very interesting history.

  2. […] to automate everything — as much as possible. This was taken to the extreme of the late CEO Roger Smith‘s dreams of a fully-automated “lights out factory.” GM wasted hundreds of […]

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