The death of John Smale on Saturday was a missed opportunity by several outlets to examine the negative impact that he had on General Motors during his tenure as a director and chairman of the board. Smale is best known in the business world for being the former CEO of Proctor and Gamble but like many high ranking executives in American business he served other companies as a director.
The extended obituary published in the Detroit News (written by AP reporter Dan Sewell) only mentions his GM role in passing in the opening paragraph while the brief piece on Autoblog focuses on Smale replacing Bob Stempel as Chairman and helping to bring GM back from the verge of bankruptcy. As chairman, Smale probably had little to do with the actual slashing of costs and spending at GM but he nonetheless had a huge impact on GM in another way and it wasn't good.
Smale was responsible bringing Ron Zarella, one of his former P&G colleagues to GM to institute brand management. Brand management was a totally bungled and wrong-headed approach to building and selling cars. At P&G Smale and Zarella found a way to sell the same products under multiple different brands and get away with it. Unfortunately this approach doesn't translate to the car business and resulting in such an unappealing car lineup that despite growing discounting, GM's market share continued to shrink throughout their tenure and consumer's attitudes to GM plummeted.
GM's lineup didn't begin to improve until Bob Lutz joined up and Zarella left in 2001 and even then it took several years to demonstrate that the company could build interesting vehicles. Even then, the company's problems were so deep seated that time that they couldn't earn enough to avoid bankruptcy in 2009. Perhaps if the company had focused on great products and a pared down brand lineup in 1992 instead of waiting more than a decade, that fate might have been avoided.
#gm #cars #auto_business
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