When Bob Lutz got into the auto business in the early 1960s, CEOs knew that if you captured the public’s imagination with innovative car design and top quality craftsmanship, the money would follow. The “car guys” held sway, and GM dominated with bold, creative leadership and iconic brands like Cadillac, Buick, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, GMC, and Chevrolet.
But then GM’s leadership began to put their faith in numbers and spreadsheets. Determined to eliminate the “waste” and “personality worship” of the bygone creative leaders and maximize profitability, management got too smart for its own good. With the bean counters firmly in charge, carmakers, and much of American industry, lost their single-minded focus on product excellence and their competitive advantage. Decline soon followed.
In 2001, General Motors hired Lutz out of retirement with a mandate to save the company by making great cars again. As Vice Chairman, he launched a war against the penny-pinching number-crunchers who ran the company by the bottom line, and reinstated a focus on creativity, design, and cars and trucks that would satisfy GM customers.
After emerging from bankruptcy in 2009, GM is finally back on track thanks in part to its embrace of Lutz’s philosophy with acclaimed new models like the Chevrolet Volt, Cadillac CTS, Chevrolet Equinox, and Buick LaCrosse.
Lutz’s common-sense lessons, combined with a generous helping of fascinating anecdotes, will inspire readers in any industry. As he writes:
“It applies in any business. Shoemakers should be run by shoe guys, and software firms by software guys, and supermarkets by supermarket guys. With the advice and support of their bean counters, absolutely, but with the final word going to those who live and breathe the customer experience. Passion and drive for excellence will win over the computer-like, dispassionate, analysis-driven philosophy every time.”