DETROIT -- Steve Matsil was lounging on a veranda in Maui late last year, leafing through the newspaper as swimmers frolicked in the pool below, when he got a call on his cell phone from Detroit.
It was Jeff Luke, chief engineer for General Motors' full-sized pickups. Luke wanted to know whether Matsil, retired from the company since 2009, would lend his talents to GM's most important vehicle rollout in years.
Fast-forward six months. Matsil, 66, is spending more than 80 hours a month helping GM ensure a smooth flow of axles, steering columns and other systems for the redesigned Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra, which will begin arriving at dealerships by early June. His busy travel schedule with his wife -- to Arizona, New York City, the San Francisco Bay Area -- has been replaced by conference calls, supplier visits and even a few trips to GM suppliers in Mexico. His four-day-a-week exercise regimen is in tatters.
"I've busted my routine," says Matsil, who spent 14 years of his 36-year GM career as chief engineer on vehicle programs, including full-sized trucks. "But to have the company reach back out to you for help with something as critical as a bread-and-butter product like the new pickups, it makes you feel good."
He adds: "I think General Motors gets quite a bit out of it, too, by getting people who have a proven track record of performance and results."
Four years after GM's bankruptcy, the leaner automaker has begun tapping a deep pool of relatively young, still talented retirees who left the company earlier than planned during the downturn. Some were laid off. Others left to sidestep the angst of restructuring.
In recent months, about 160 retirees have rejoined GM on a contract basis. About 100, like Matsil, are helping monitor GM's supply base to eliminate snags on the pickup launch and other key rollouts. Another 60 were enlisted to run a new internship program that will put Detroit area teens to work on community projects this summer, grooming potential future GMers.
It's common for retired auto executives to jump on the consulting circuit as a second career. But it's far less so for them to rejoin their old company, especially after having exited under such ominous circumstances. Many never pictured themselves back in the GM fold, says Mike DiGiovanni, a former GM executive who is running the internship program at the request of GM North America President Mark Reuss.