Roger Smith Called One of the Seven Most Notable Presidents Who Helped Shape GM

Flashback Friday: 1984 Saturn Prototype

The man with the vision behind the creation of General Motors' Saturn subsidiary, Roger Smith, was called one of the seven most notable executives to have run the corporation during GM's storied 100 year history. GM "has been led by men who were often larger than life themselves," wrote Bryce G. Hoffman in an article published this morning in the Detroit News. "Some of the names are legendary, others remembered only by industry insiders. Some are famous for what they did, others for what they said."

Roger Smith's legacy left a significant, albeit controversial, imprint on GM, but arguably his most lasting mark was the creation of Saturn. He is pictured above with one of the first Saturn prototypes.

He may have provided an easy foil for young filmmaker Michael Moore, but Roger Smith was a complicated character in GM's drama. Smith became CEO in an era of deep decline that saw factories shuttered and workers turned out into the streets in droves. But he also tried, perhaps unsuccessfully, to remodel and reform GM's aging and ossified corporate structure. Smith also launched Saturn, an innovative attempt to apply Japanese principles to an American brand that ushered in a new era of workplace cooperation. "Saturn as a brand may have only been moderately successful," said Harley Shaiken, an expert on labor relations at the University of California, Berkeley. "But the notion of what you could gain through cooperation continues until this day."

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