How many superstars are there?

IT SURPRISED just about everyone when General Motors hired Bob Lutz as vice chairman in charge of product.

Even though Bob is a few years past the normal retirement age, GM executives were pleased because they had hired a superstar.

Last week, our sister publication Automotive News Europe published its annual list of Eurostars, the auto industry's superstars in Europe. They are all great executives.

But it raises an interesting question. Are there enough superstars in the world to run all the automobile companies?

Every time there is an opportunity for someone to take the reins of a car company, speculation involves a handful of executives. It always seems to be the same bright lights and the same brilliant executives.

I used to think it was strange that the automobile business had such a small group of executives who might be capable of rising to the challenges of a multibillion-dollar endeavor. I wondered why the automobile companies hadn't done a better job of creating their own superstars.

But it doesn't matter. Even if you grow your own executives and never hire anyone from the outside, the time will come when -regardless of how good your own executives are - you will have the opportunity to hire a bright one from another company.

Most of the time the CEO can't seem to resist hiring that bright star from the outside.

The same pattern exists in other industries. For example, even though there are plenty of brilliant executives in the technology arena, it seems there is always competition for the same few superstars.

Every industry has its superstars, those few executives for whom everyone seems to be vying. And the competition for great executives is no less intense in any other industry.

So it really doesn't matter how well you do nurturing your own people. The best and the brightest will always surface and be sought.

The number of superstars in every industry is limited. That's what makes these people the best. That's why everyone wants them on the team.

You can reach Keith Crain at kcrain@crain.com

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