DEROIT - A favorite Jack Smith motto in his 11 years as the top executive at General Motors has been "Deeds, not words."
Smith stayed true to his credo as he sat in his office atop GM's headquarters in Detroit's Renaissance Center, submitting cordially, if not enthusiastically, to a farewell interview on March 25.
Smith's words were low-key - frank, but quiet and self-deprecating. Asked whether he knew how to change GM in 1992, when the board of directors ousted Robert Stempel and installed him as CEO, Smith began: "Pretty much. It was simple, really."
But his deeds have added up to nothing less than a top-to-bottom restructuring of the world's largest automaker. Smith has steered GM from a severe crisis in 1992 to the point that it is regaining respect as a tough global competitor.
Smith was named chairman of GM in 1996.
Another chairman with such a resume might scale the best-seller lists with an autobiography, get a business school named after himself or set up shop as a management guru. Instead, Smith seems eager to escape the limelight.
On May 1, Smith's protege, Rick Wagoner, 50, who took over as CEO in 2000, will succeed him as chairman. And Smith, 65, will be off to retirement in Florida and in Cape Cod in his native Massachusetts, where he will help his son run an upscale grocery and delicatessen.