DETROIT -- To get a sense of how Ross Roberts could sway a dealer, just listen to Fraser Lemley, who sells Fords and Lincolns in Medford, Mass.
"You'd go into a meeting feeling depressed," Lemley, CEO of Sentry Auto Group, recalled last week after the death of the former Ford Motor Co. sales and marketing executive. "You'd have a meeting with him, and you'd go back to your store and you'd figure out a way to buy more product."
Roberts, who died Tuesday, Jan. 28, of congestive heart failure at 75, reflected a mix of Texan straight-shooting and above-the-fray geniality during his 37 years at Ford.
His career began to peak when he took over as head of the flagship Ford Division in 1991. Over the next seven years he would widen Ford's sales lead over Chevrolet, build the Explorer into the nation's best-selling SUV and keep the F-150 the industry's dominant pickup.
He would also steer the Taurus to a five-year reign, ending in 1996, as the best-selling car in the United States. No domestic car has held the title since.
When Roberts retired at the end of 1999, Automotive News called him "one of the last of a generation of powerful general managers who controlled the North American market at Ford Motor and General Motors."