When former Audi and Infiniti executive Johan de Nysschen was named head of Cadillac this month, a few veteran wags wondered aloud: Is de Nysschen
the new John Grettenberger?
Remember Grettenberger? The former Cadillac boss, who celebrates his 77th birthday this week, is viewed by some as the last pure Cadillac general manager. He retired in 1997 after holding the position for 13 years, a veritable lifetime by today's GM standards.
In the last 13 years, Cadillac has had nine bosses.
Some think of Grettenberger as the embodiment of the old-fashioned, all-powerful GM division general manager. Only he wasn't. He was actually the first of the modern era of division bosses, who are mainly sales and marketers.
Not to say Grettenberger wasn't powerful. He pulled Cadillac out of its sales slump in the 1980s and championed the Escalade in the 1990s.
Cadillac may never have another omnipotent general manager like James Roche, who became GM's CEO, or George Elges, known as "El Supremo" in the early 1970s.
Those guys controlled product and manufacturing, as well as sales. But a high-profile boss who sticks around -- like Grettenberger -- could be just what the doctor ordered.