If you met Tom Murphy, you wouldn't think of him as a horse's ass.
But that's what former UAW President Doug Fraser called Murphy in the summer of 1979 when the GM CEO opposed federal loan guarantees to save Chrysler jobs.
Murphy, who died Wednesday, Jan. 18, at age 90, always seemed a pleasant man. He was one of the last in the long, gray-flannel line of GM CEOs who ran the world's most powerful capitalist enterprise. He headed GM from 1974 to 1980.
As a leader of the auto industry, you couldn't have found a nicer, more thoughtful guy. Or so it seemed a quarter of a century ago when I was a young financial reporter.
I interviewed him in his office a couple of times and covered his performance at annual meetings in the days when they used to drag on for half a day. He was serious, straightforward, polite and seemed every bit a credit to the memory of the saint for whom he was named.
But Thomas Aquinas Murphy also seemed every bit a captain of industry sitting in his 14th-foor office in the GM Building on West Grand Boulevard in Detroit.
He was never nasty. When I asked him who at GM had fired John DeLorean and why, Murphy wouldn't say. And when DeLorean claimed that GM was trying to sink his sports car project, Murphy stayed above the fray.
So why did he oppose aid for Chrysler if it meant saving all those jobs?
It wasn't for competitive advantage or because he was cold-hearted.
It was strictly on the principle of keeping government from intruding in the workings of the marketplace.
Looking back, Tom Murphy was wrong.
But so was Doug Fraser.
You may e-mail Edward Lapham at [email protected]