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Roger B. Smith Dies • November 30, 2007

Roger B. Smith, who led General Motors in the 1980s through a period of significant change, passed away November 29 after a brief illness. He was 82. Smith directed GM during a revolutionary period in the auto industry, a time of expanding global business, tough new environmental and safety standards, and increased competition from import brands.

Smith was appointed chairman and CEO on January 1, 1981, and led the world's largest automaker until his retirement on July 31, 1990. Among his other accomplishments, Smith created GM's Saturn subsidiary in the mid-1980s. He drove its first car off the Spring Hill, TN assembly line the day before he retired. In addition, during Smith's tenure as chairman and CEO, GM introduced its first front-wheel-drive midsize cars, formed NUMMI, a joint venture with Toyota to manufacture cars in California, and acquired Electronic Data Systems and Hughes Aircraft Corp.

"Roger Smith led GM during a period of tremendous innovation in the industry." GM Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner said today. "He was a leader who knew that we have to accept change, understand change, and learn to make it work for us. Roger was truly a pioneer in the fast moving global industry that we now take for granted."

Prior to being elected chairman, Smith had been an executive vice president and a member of the GM Board of Directors since December 1, 1974.

Born in Columbus, Ohio, on July 12, 1925, he received his formal education in Michigan. He graduated from Detroit University School in 1942. He received his bachelor's degree in business administration in 1947 from the University of Michigan and was awarded a master’s degree in business administration there in 1953. He served in the U.S. Navy from 1944 to 1946.

Smith began his GM career in 1949 as a general accounting clerk in the Detroit Central Office. After a series of promotions, he became treasurer of the Corporation in 1970 and vice president in charge of the Financial Staff and a member of the Administration Committee in 1971. The following year, he became vice president and group executive in charge of the Non-automotive and Defense Group. In 1974, he was elected executive vice president, with responsibility for the Financial, Public Relations, and Industry-Government Relations Staffs.

Smith was the originator in February 1978, of the General Motors Cancer Research Awards, designed to recognize basic and clinical scientists throughout the world for hallmark accomplishments in research on the cause, prevention and treatment of cancer.

In the international world, Smith's leadership in promoting free trade was recognized by many countries where General Motors operated. He was awarded gold medals by the heads of state of Austria, Belgium and Spain, as well as the French Legion of Honor. He served on the U.S. Presidential Commission on South Africa.

On the national scene, Smith served on two presidential commissions. He was chairman of both the Business Roundtable and the Business Council. He was a trustee of the California Institute of Technology and received honorary doctorates from several universities. Smith served on the boards of directors of Citicorp, International Paper, Johnson & Johnson and PepsiCo. He served as chairman of the Blue Ribbon Committee of the New York Stock Exchange that originated the concept of "circuit breakers" to moderate large price fluctuations in the stock and option markets. His leadership in finance and industry was recognized by awards from leading associations and publications across the country.

In state and local affairs, Smith served as chairman of the board of the Economic Club of Detroit, Detroit Renaissance and the Detroit United Foundation. He served on the board of directors of many other charitable and educational organizations.

Smith is survived by Barbara, his wife of 53 years; four children: Roger B. Smith Jr., Jennifer A. Ponski, Victoria B. Sawula, and Drew J. Smith; and six grandchildren. Services will be private. The family asks that contributions, in lieu of flowers, be made to the Roger B. Smith Memorial Fund to Benefit the Fight Against Cancer at William Beaumont Hospital, c/o of the Beaumont Fund, P.O. Box 5802, Troy, MI 48007-9620.

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Source: General Motors

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