It started with an ex-chairman. Now it has an ex-vice president.
Energy Conversion Devices, the electric-vehicle components firm run by former General Motors Chairman Robert Stempel, has hired Ken Baker as vice chairman and COO. Baker, 51, is GM's former research and development vice president and the man in charge of GM's first commercial electric car, the EV1.
Baker retires as vice president and general man- ager of GM's Dis-tributed Energy Business Unit effective today, Feb. 1. He says the challenge of mass producing advanced technologies -especially nickel-metal-hydride batteries - is what attracted him to the company.
'We want to look at the production systems and see where we can drive the cost out,' Baker says of the Troy, Mich., components firm. 'I've always been interested in the entrepreneurial side, and here is an opportunity to take a company that is technology-rich and figure out how to use that technology in a car.'
Regarded as a maverick individualist during his 29 years at GM, Baker helped develop a computerized diagnostic system while director of GM's Service Technology Group. He encouraged use of the first computer simulations for product development as director of vehicle engineering at the now defunct Cadillac-Pontiac-Canada Group.
But two later assignments may have sealed his fate at GM, according to colleagues. One was steering the Impact electric vehicle - later named the EV1 - to production through GM's bureaucratic maze from 1990-93. Baker says he took that job because, at the time, GM was considering making electric vehicles a separate division. But corporate losses forced the board to cut the program's budget.
Another sticky assignment was being named director of GM Research and Development in 1993. The board asked him to transform GM r&d into an integral part of GM's carmaking operation. The operation had been an insular scientific laboratory working on subjects as far afield as medical research.
'His charter was to go in and make that operation more focused on the core business, which he did,' says a colleague who requested anonymity. 'But you don't make a lot of friends that way.'
With his sponsors, Robert Stem-pel and former President Lloyd Reuss, long gone after GM's 1992 board coup, Baker was transferred to the automaker's Distributed Energy Business Unit in 1998.