Smale did a DuPont at GM -- with different results
John Smale will be remembered for reprising Pierre DuPont's role at General Motors. But, as with many movies, the sequel wasn't as successful as the original.
Smale, who became chairman of GM in 1992 after a historic management shakeup sparked by a period of financial turmoil at the automaker, died Nov. 19. He was 84.
The cause of death was complications from pulmonary fibrosis, according to a spokesman for Procter & Gamble, where Smale was CEO before assuming the chairman's role at GM.
For a decade, GM's board had sat and watched as the auto giant lost money, market share and a sense of direction. Finally, Smale led a board revolt that eventually led to the departure of GM CEO Robert Stempel, President Lloyd Reuss and several other senior executives.
It was not the first time the board had stepped in to clean house.
In 1915, Billy Durant regained control of GM from Eastern financiers. DuPont was named chairman. For several years, DuPont was hands-off. But in 1920, Durant was out again, and DuPont, then retired as head of E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co., stepped in as president.
In rebuilding GM, DuPont relied on a reorganization plan drafted by GM executive vice president Alfred Sloan, whom DuPont later named president. When DuPont resigned as GM chairman in 1928, Sloan was well on his way to remaking GM as the model of a modern corporation.
Smale tried to install P&G-style brand management at GM, with results that were mixed at best. His long-term legacy at GM is a matter of heated debate among GM-watchers.
But in 1992, Smale and his board sent a message to managers at GM and across America: Don't assume directors will passively accept subpar performance forever.