No Detroiters Need Apply

Here I go, disagreeing with my bosses again.

In a column yesterday, Executive Editor Edward Lapham suggests, and then reluctantly rejects, Roger Penske for the job of Car Czar. He runs through a few other names, before asking, tongue in cheek, whether Lee Iacocca might be available.

Ed recognizes that the short list of candidates for the post will be packed with folks who have clout in Washington. But he says that the industry needs someone who understands its unique dynamics of manufacturing, engineering and marketing more than someone who knows the corridors of power in the District of Columbia.

Sorry, Ed. By now, it should be painfully obvious that for this job, No Detroiters Need Apply.

If you work now or have ever worked for one of the Detroit 3, you are tainted and pretty much out of the running. You are seen as part of the problem, not part of the potential solution. That may be misguided and a shame, but it is reality.

I mean, you don't really think anybody in Detroit -- including media types like Ed and I -- are going to have any say in the selection, do you? The candidate is not going to be selected by General Motors, Ford Motor Co. or Chrysler LLC.

The names already floated for the short list are telling: lawyer Kenneth Feinberg, who headed the fund for 9-11 victims; former Federal Reserve Board Chairman Paul Volcker, and former General Electric CEO "Neutron" Jack Welch. These are big picture folks with a command of complex financial transactions and multiple constituencies. Business backgrounds can help, but are not mandatory.

I, too, would have liked to see some auto-industry names on the list. I would have preferred a former supplier CEO who has experience with both Chapter 11 and the UAW. Someone with the experience of, say, a Larry Denton, formerly of Dura Automotive Systems Inc. But I think that's highly unlikely.

Denton likely would be seen as too cozy to his former company. Similarly, Iacocca could not be trusted to be an impartial overseer. If all of his advisors concluded that letting Chrysler disappear were the right thing to do, would Iacocca agree to remake his legacy as the destructor of the company he once saved?


Unfortunately, Washington also probably will rule out such highly qualified candidates as Gary Convis, the former head of Toyota's manufacturing operations in Georgetown, Ky. He has the benefit of not being a Detroit 3 grad.

You say you object to putting a former Toyota boss in charge of GM, Ford and Chrysler? Then forget about getting someone with automotive background, unless they worked in the auto industry 20 years ago and ever since have been part of the Silicon Valley scene.

Paul Volker is starting to look better and better, isn't he?

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