Bob O'Connell, who died last week at 76, was among the casualties of the revolution at General Motors in 1992, the one that ushered in the Jack Smith-Rick Wagoner era and displaced the team of Bob Stempel and Lloyd Reuss.
O'Connell, CFO under chairman Stempel, was demoted in May of that year. In a poignant scene from Comeback, the 1994 book by Paul Ingrassia and Joseph B. White, O'Connell called his wife the day before he was removed as CFO and lost his executive vice president status. He said: "Something bad is going to happen to me tomorrow. I'm not sure what."
What happened was that O'Connell replaced General Motors Acceptance Corp. Chairman John Edman, who retired in the wake of the discovery that John McNamara, a GM dealer on Long Island, N.Y., had bilked GMAC out of $436 million.
Though taken down a notch, O'Connell -- described in Comeback as having "an acid wit" -- never lost his sense of humor.
At an editorial board meeting with Automotive News a year after becoming chairman and CEO of GMAC, O'Connell quipped, "I just want to point out that there are four executive vice presidents at GM and probably over 40 vice presidents. But there is only one senior vice president, which is me. I guess that makes me a first among equals."
O'Connell also pointed out that as chairman of GMAC, he reported to himself.