DETROIT -- James McDonald, who was president of General Motors under CEO Roger Smith in the 1980s, died Sunday. He was 87.
McDonald became president and COO on Feb. 1, 1981, a month after Smith took over as GM's chief executive.
McDonald helped steer GM as it rebounded from recession at the start of the decade while confronting stiffening competition from overseas. The company diversified, reorganized, overhauled factories and sought new ways of winning back U.S. market share.
With Smith, McDonald announced the creation of Saturn, the small-car company designed to beat Japanese imports, in 1983.
In a 1987 story marking McDonald's retirement at age 65, Automotive News called McDonald's quest for quality a “long, hard and often disappointing struggle.” Some colleagues, the article said, “say McDonald's compassion for plant workers caused GM to postpone too long the closing of several assembly and component plants.”
A year earlier, Ford Motor Co. had outearned GM for the first time since 1924, amid growing signs that Smith's overhaul was failing.
McDonald was quoted as saying that the rewards were yet to come.
“We could have eliminated a lot of investment and not reorganized and looked better right now,” he said. “But I don't think the corporation would have existed until 1990 or existed very well.”
McDonald's successor as president, Robert Stempel, would take over for Smith as CEO in 1990 only to be ousted by GM's board less than two years later.
GM's market share in its home market fell to 38.9 percent in the year of McDonald's retirement, from 44.5 percent in 1980. Last year, after its U.S. rescue and bankruptcy, GM held a 19.9 percent share.
Earlier in his career, McDonald succeeded John DeLorean twice: as general manager of Pontiac in 1969 and Chevrolet in 1972.
In a statement announcing McDonald's death, GM listed these services:
Florida visitation -- Wednesday, June 16, 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., Strunk Funeral Home, Vero Beach. Mass -- Thursday, June 17, 10 a.m., Holy Cross Catholic Church, Vero Beach.
Michigan visitation -- Sunday, June 20, 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., A.J. Desmond and Sons Funeral Home, Royal Oak. Mass -- Monday, June 21, 11 a.m., St. Hugo of the Hills Church, Bloomfield Hills.