Roger Smith was a pop-culture punching bag in the late 1980s, but he gets some vindication in the survival of the Saturn brand — one of his pet projects as chairman and CEO of General Motors from 1981 until his retirement in 1990.
Smith died in November 2007 at age 82.
He championed diversification — the acquisitions of Electronic Data Systems and Hughes Aircraft and various financial properties.
But he let GM's core businesses (cars and trucks) go to pot. Quality slipped badly, and GM produced cookie-cutter cars — a Chevrolet and a Buick differed primarily by badge and price sticker.
Worst of all, GM's market share declined from 44.5 percent in 1980 to 35.1 percent in 1989.
Also, Smith's massive 1984 reorganization of GM was a failure. Reorganization was needed, but as Wall Street analyst Maryann Keller aptly put it: "The theory that change was imperative was correct. However, nothing went right in its implementation. Much of Roger Smith's tenure was like that: good idea, poor execution."