Former GM Chief Passes Away


    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.”

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    Mark Graban
    Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


    1. 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.


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