I met my first general manager from General Motors a long time ago.
His name was John Beltz, and if he hadn't died too young, he would have been a shoo-in for GM president. He ran Oldsmobile in Lansing, Mich.
He was quite a guy and a heck of an executive.
I've told this story often. During one of my visits to Lansing, Beltz showed me his r&d area with all sorts of prototype engines, gearboxes and other technical stuff.
I asked why it wasn't part of GM's corporate engineering, and he told me that he hid it. It was just for Oldsmobile. He said if he couldn't hide a few million dollars from the corporation, he didn't deserve to be general manager.
Well, times have changed, and the role of general manager of a GM division is a lot different. It's too bad.
Back then, general managers were responsible for manufacturing, engineering, sales and service. They fought with Bill Mitchell, head of design, as to who was in charge of design.
Today, a general manager has a much different role, but to the world, he or she is still the face of the division and is the voice of that division inside and outside the company.
It doesn't seem to matter what he is responsible for within the corporation, he accepts responsibility for everything. That includes quality, engineering, sales and service and design. He gets the bouquets and the brickbats.
It's about time the vehicle division general managers once again became GM vice presidents.
GM stripped the vice presidential titles from the heads of the divisions in 1999 during the Ron Zarrella era.
But it's a different world today, and as long as the general manager is the face of his division, he should have the title.
You can't have the responsibility without the recognition, and a fix is long overdue.
A lot is going on in the domestic automobile business these days, but one thing is for sure. To quote Bob Rewey, the former Ford sales executive: "They pay me to move the iron."
Well, those GM executives move the iron. They deserve the respect and the recognition within the industry and their corporation. They already have the responsibility.