Sometimes the right guy comes along at the right time and catches everyone by surprise.
No one expected Harry Truman to be the decisive and effective president that he became. Some say Truman surprised himself once he had the job.
Winston Churchill caught everyone off guard with the heroic way he led Britain during World War II -- only to be unceremoniously dumped by the voters shortly after the war ended.
Someone else who always impressed me with his statesmanlike qualities was Doug Fraser, a UAW president from another era.
With Chrysler on the brink 31 years ago, Fraser rose to the occasion in the face of an enormous challenge. Working with Lee Iacocca and Jim Blanchard, a young congressman from Detroit who later became Michigan's governor, Fraser helped save the company from ruin. He persuaded the union's Chrysler employees to accept $462.5 million in wage and benefit concessions as part of the package that led to Chrysler's government loan guarantee.
The UAW needed another statesman these past few years, and it got one in Ron Gettelfinger, who has led his union through the toughest time in its history.
The UAW understands getting, not giving. But Gettelfinger made sacrifices with the support of union members. The UAW is a very democratic organization, which made it all the more difficult to get consent on givebacks.
Gettelfinger has left behind a huge legacy for his union and his successor.
Bob King, the new head of the UAW, will have a tough time dealing with the challenges the union is facing. If he's not careful, the UAW could put the domestic industry right back into the same mess it was in during the global financial crisis.
Gettelfinger walked a narrow line.
He had to take care of the interests of his members, a group that was shrinking every year.
And he had to come to grips with the strange dynamics of having two of the Detroit 3 enter bankruptcy.
Perhaps even more important, Gettelfinger had to deal with Ford, which did not take government money or go bankrupt.
He has driven through a minefield and done an admirable job for his members, as well as the Detroit 3 and supplier companies.
It's a lot easier time these days, but Gettelfinger is still one tough act to follow. Everyone owes him a "job well done."