Charles Wilson — known as "Engine Charlie" — was surprised but not daunted when he took his first look at the conglomerate that President Eisenhower had picked him to run.
It was the Defense Department and its home, the Pentagon.
Writing about Wilson's new job in January 1953, Automotive News Washington Correspondent William Ullman reported that the Defense Department was represented on 998 joint boards, councils, agencies, committees, subcommittees and panels.
Wilson's previous job was president of General Motors — which was pretty big on committees, too. Engine Charlie settled in and ran his new territory just as efficiently as he had directed the world's largest manufacturing corporation.
Wilson was a hard worker who thought nothing of spending the night in his suite at GM headquarters or working Saturdays and holidays.
In its Jan. 24, 1949, cover story, Time magazine described Wilson as a "reserved blue-eyed boss who thinks fast, talks slow and never wastes time pounding the desk."
Wilson chain-smoked Chesterfields. After his death, a Sept. 26, 1961, article in The Detroit News said he often was oblivious to the cigarette ash that had fallen on his lapels.
He drove his Cadillac to work from his fieldstone home in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. He and his wife had three sons and three daughters. Rather than the gourmet food he could afford, "his favorites are chipped beef or salted peanuts, or both, any time of the day," Time reported.
Wilson enjoyed tennis and horseback riding. He also ice-skated until he fell and broke his hip in 1947, requiring him to manage GM from a hospital bed. That is where he mapped out the cost-of-living pay plan.