Elliott Marantette Estes, the future president of General Motors, spent his first year after high school churning butter for $3.20 a day at the Constantine (Mich.) Co-Operative Creamery.
When a cousin who worked for Pontiac sent a news clipping about the General Motors Institute, Estes decided the automotive business was for him. In 1934, with $1,000 in savings, he headed for GMI in Flint, Mich.
That's where he got his nickname.
"When I walked up to the crib in the shop where I had a job running a screw machine, the old boy (stock clerk) said, 'What's your name?' I told him. He let out half a laugh and said, 'You look like a Pete to me,' " Estes reminisced 46 years later, when he retired from GM.
After six months in Flint, Estes went to GM Research Laboratories, in Detroit, and worked under Charles "Boss" Kettering. Part of the experience was learning how to put up with the master's quirks.
"Ket would come in sometimes late at night, grab a screwdriver out of your hand and fiddle with the engine until we had to do our work all over again," Estes told the Detroit Free Press. "Once he stalled a car in Detroit's Washington Boulevard traffic, then called me and said, 'Pete, I'll give you five minutes to come down and get this pile of junk off the street.' "
After Estes received his GMI certificate in 1938, he spent two years at the University of Cincinnati and graduated in 1940 with a degree in mechanical engineering. He returned to Kettering's labs and worked on high-compression four-stroke technology.
Estes moved to Oldsmobile in 1946, concentrating on development of the "Rocket" V-8 and advancing to assistant chief engineer at Olds in 1954. He became chief engineer at Pontiac two years later and rose to general manager of the division in 1961.
At Pontiac, he was part of the Knudsen-Estes-DeLorean team that revived the sagging division and led it to third place in industry sales.