Charity Preview night at the North American International Auto Show, also known as Detroit's auto prom -- is a great tradition.
The black-tie event is held the Friday evening before the show opens to the public. It's fun and raises millions for children's charities in southeast Michigan, courtesy of the Detroit Auto Dealers Association, which sponsors the Detroit show.
Everybody is there. The bigwigs usually stay on their own stands to welcome well-wishers, but everybody else circulates.
So it's pretty tough to see the cars and trucks as you walk around sipping champagne with 17,000 of your closest friends and colleagues.
But that's OK.
If you've been there during the week for the press previews and/or industry days, you've already seen the hardware. The auto prom is about seeing people.
There are people you've already run into several times during the week. You also see people you only see once a year, at the auto prom.
Then there are people you don't expect to see at all, such as Jacques Nasser.
I bumped into the former Ford CEO a couple of times at this year's black-tie preview, the first time on the Ford stand.
Nasser looks great. He is slim, trim and looks at least 15 years younger than he did in 2001 when he was carrying around the weight of the Ford Motor Co. while trying to resolve the Firestone tire/Ford Explorer tragedy.
And why shouldn't he look great?
Since leaving Dearborn, Nasser has made a killing as a private equity investor, if you can believe press reports. When I asked him about it, Nasser modestly said some deals have turned out better than others. But when I mentioned Polaroid, where Nasser became nonexecutive chairman and was handsomely rewarded, he smiled.
Later, I ran into Nasser on the far side of the show, in front of Toyota. The Toyota stand was bigger and much more crowded than it was five years ago, when Nasser was Ford CEO. That made for slow-going in the aisles.
But it didn't matter to Jacques Nasser. He was still smiling.
You may e-mail Edward Lapham at [email protected]