The auto industry was heading into a notoriously troublesome period when Richard Gerstenberg retired as CEO of General Motors. He didnt want to go.
I hate to leave all these problems to someone else, he told Automotive News in November 1974.
It was typical of the man. In his 42 years with GM, Gerstenberg faced and solved a host of problems. He died July 11 in Paradise Valley, Ariz., at the age of 92.
Gerstenberg became chairman at the beginning of 1972, and the first two years of his three as chairman brought record profits for GM.
The oil crisis, which began Oct. 16, 1973, changed all that. Gerstenberg superintended the extensive downsizing of GM cars that resulted from the oil shock.
Also, Detroit-Washington relations were rocky on issues such as safety, airbags and fuel economy. As CEO, Gerstenberg directed GMs strategy.
Gerstenberg may have then thought about his fathers words when the young man entered college:
I just hope that you wont have to work all your life like I had to work, his father said. I wish you could get a job with a big company and take things easy.
Gerstenberg would work for the worlds largest manufacturing company, but it wasnt easy.
He joined GM in 1932 as a timekeeper for Frigidaire Division in Dayton, Ohio. He moved to Fisher Body in Detroit two years later and to the financial staff in 1936.
In 1956, he earned what he later called his most important promotion: He became treasurer of GM.
But GM wasnt finished with the man who once told a U.S. Senate subcommittee that he was old Gerstenberg the bookkeeper. On his way to chairman and CEO, he became finance vice president in 1960, executive vice president in 1967 and vice chairman in 1970.