IN THE auto industry a man will disappear with the suddenness and completeness of the flame of a candle that is blown out.
Most often, after he has retired or been sacked or eased out or has left to pursue other interests, the man's face will be seen no more.
But in America, at least, that's beginning to change. Ford has just brought back 68-year-old Allan Gilmour, who retired as Ford's vice chairman in 1994. With a break or two Gilmour might have had the top job at Ford. He's returning as chief financial officer and everyone at Ford seems thrilled to have him back.
The comeback of 70-year-old Bob Lutz at General Motors has been well documented - and was probably the inspiration for recycling Gilmour. Lutz's hiring last year by GM CEO Rick Wagoner was the most celebrated personnel move in the car business since Nikolaus Otto put Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach on retainer.
Former auto execs everywhere cheered.
Sit around with retired car guys for very long at their melancholy, out-of-power lunches and the conversation always comes around to something like: 'They gave us gold watches and now they don't give us the time of day. We have all this experience and no one wants to use it! Why, the bunch of us could go in there tomorrow and ...'
Now geezers are getting their chance.
The nice thing about restoring old guys to their former glory is that they are so grateful. Their loyalty knows no bounds. Still, they say exactly what's on their minds because they're not in it for the personal politics. They don't worry about their future because they don't have one.
Of course, just because a guy is old and retired doesn't mean he is right for you. Sure, you could bring back Jose Dedeurwaerder, but do you really want to?
But lots of old-timers have something to offer. So will elder statesmen become fashionable in Europe, too? And if they do, who are the hot, old prospects? Here are some aging rockers who might provide the spark you're looking for.
Ernst Fiala, 74. The father of the Golf I, II and III was Volkswagen's product development chief from 1972 until 1988. He once said: 'A car developer starts to know something of what cars are all about when he turns 60. That is the moment when he is asked to retire.'
Bill Hayden, 73. Half the guys at Jaguar would break into a cold sweat if Ford brought back Hayden. The lifelong Ford manufacturing executive is credited with saving Jaguar in the early 1990s by modernizing its plants and fixing its processes. He did it by scaring everyone to death. With Hayden safely retired, old Jaguar hands can joke about their gruff former boss. But all joking would stop if Ford turned Hayden loose on the X-type's quality problems.
Fritz Lohr, 76. Without Lohr, some say there would have been no ascension of GM Europe executives Jack Smith, Bob Eaton and Rick Wagoner. He was the architect of Opel's dramatic product-based comeback in the late 1980s.
Lohr wasn't just the father of Opel's car range. He penned the first design for GM's first ultra-lean factory in Eisenach, in the former East Germany, on a beer coaster. Except for a few small changes, GM built the plant exactly as Lohr drew it.
Carl Hahn, 76. The long-time Volkswagen executive helped launch the Beetle phenomenon in the USA 42 years ago. He later led VW's globalization as the company's chairman from 1982 to 1991. Hahn bought Seat and Skoda and propelled the company into China. Some say he would make an excellent modern-day head of international operations.
Jose Ignacio Lopez, 61. Here's someone who could help get your suppliers' attention.
Bruno Sacco, 69. Mercedes' long-time chief designer may be the man for a brand with upmarket aspirations.
Spencer King, 76. This sometimes forgotten Land Rover engineer created the passenger-friendly Range Rover. In effect, he invented the modern sport-utility.
Pehr Gyllenhammar, 67. The long-time AB Volvo CEO used to wear two watches - one with Swedish time, the other with the time of whatever country he was in. Should a carmaker call, he'd happily strap on the other watch again.
John Egan, 63. The former chairman of Jaguar revived the brand in the mid-1980s. He did a lot with a little and positioned a weak company for a bidding war between Ford and GM. That might make him right for MG Rover.
Helmut Werner, 65. Here is someone who lost power struggles to both Ferdinand Piëch and Jürgen Schrempp. The former head of Mercedes-Benz and Continental must have learned something in the process.
Graham Day, 69. The Canadian lawyer and chairman of pre-BMW Rover Group might be a good fixer-upper. He's no car guy, but Day kept the old Rover Group alive for years after the British government refused to let it be sold to Ford or GM. He's now non-executive chairman of PowerGen, the British power company.
Ian Gibson, 55. Not really a geezer, but the former head of Nissan Europe retired soon after Carlos Ghosn went to Nissan. Some think Gibson could have been Nissan's Ghosn if he'd been given the chance. He now leads the UK department of trade and industry's new automotive innovation and growth team.
Ulrich Seiffert, 61. Piëch chased him away from the top product development job at Volkswagen, where he had a reputation for sniffing out bad ideas and getting on with the good ones. Uli is not afraid to speak his mind, which of course accounted for his early departure.
Now I don't know if any of these pensioners are available, but ... wait a minute, of course they're available.
E-mail Richard Johnson at [email protected]