strategy+business Winter 2013 : Page 89
B E S T B U S I N E S S B O O K S 2 0 13 / L E A D E R S H I P The Swiss-born, multilingual Lutz is an ex-Marine who labored near the top at Ford, Chrysler, BMW, and GM (twice), and was responsible for developing such iconic cars as the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Vi-per. While skewering the likes of legendary Lee Iacocca and hapless Rick Wagoner (CEO when GM required the recent bailout), Lutz does his best to remain even-handed and ﬁnd the best in the worst of the lot. But he is deﬁnitely on the side of car guys. Lutz is particularly venomous with regard to such “bean counters” as the late Red Poling, Ford’s chairman and CEO in the early 1990s, who, while living “in a world of spreadsheets, [was] hopelessly removed from the unquantiﬁable reactions of the real world [and] A major theme running through the hundred-year saga known as “Detroit” has been the nasty leadership battle between car guys and bean counters. cost the company millions of dollars in proﬁt.” He also mocks Poling’s pathetically insecure predecessor, the late Philip Caldwell, who Lutz says kept photos of him-self shaking hands with celebrities in an album titled “Important People Who Have Met Me.” In many ways, this book is a sequel to the comic and insightful On a Clear Day You Can See General Motors: John Z. DeLorean’s Look inside the Automotive Giant (Wright Enterprises, 1979), which was penned by J. Patrick Wright and is equally full of anecdotes about the risible behavior of Big Three leaders, behavior that has led to repeated auto industry ﬁascos. What saves Icons and Idiots from being a mere col-lection of anecdotes is that, like DeLorean, Lutz is ex-tremely knowledgeable about the industry and a keen observer of leadership. Mixed in among embarrass-ing tales of alcohol-fueled mishaps, juvenile pettiness, and gross incompetence are thoughtful insights about why some leaders succeed and others fail. Most of the failures Lutz cites are due to egomania, ﬁnancial short-termism, a lack of customer focus, poor product quality, and, above all, overreliance on the numbers when com-mon sense and ﬂexibility would have saved the day. Lutz never made it to the top anywhere he worked, although he had been the odds-on favorite to succeed Iacocca at Chrysler until the incumbent made it clear he favored “ABL” (Anybody But Lutz). Lutz owns up to why, despite his enviable record as a car guy, he was never chosen to lead a major auto company: “I was too ambitious, volatile, unpredictable, undiplomatic, emo-tional and way too prone to saying the wrong thing at the wrong time.” These are characteristics Lutz docu-ments time and again in this amusing little volume, which ends, not inappropriately, with the Obama ad-ministration’s bailout of GM, where the nearly 80-year-old Lutz served as Rick Wagoner’s numero dos. Ever the non-diplomat, Lutz can’t bring himself to mention the name of the bean counter brought in to head GM when, for all intents, it was nationalized in 2009. Although he is forced to admit GM was made proﬁtable under the un-named Ed Whitacre, Lutz’s parting shot is the claim that what actually saved the company was the new models that had been under his development when the storm hit Detroit. In that regard, it is interesting to take a compara-tive look at Whitacre’s autobiography, American Turn-around: Reinventing AT&T and GM and the Way We Do Business in the USA (Business Plus, 2013), in which he offers his account of how GM was saved from bank-ruptcy. He claims one of his ﬁrst moves was to ease oc-togenarian Lutz out the door: “You didn’t have to be a car expert to ﬁgure it out: The economy didn’t get GM. Mismanagement did.” If Whitacre’s book weren’t so self-congratulatory and short on speciﬁcs, I might be inclined to write Lutz off as a has-been. But both Lutz and Whitacre are par-tially right. Detroit needs both car guys and bean coun-ters. In fact, the general leadership lesson to be taken from these books is that all the skills needed to run a large corporation are seldom found in one individual. And that is why, from the Rust Belt to Silicon Valley, successful C-suites are home to robust mixes of execu-tive talent. + best books 2013 leadership 89 James O’Toole email@example.com is a senior fellow in business ethics at the University of Santa Clara’s Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. A longtime contributing editor to strategy+business, he blogs about strategy and leadership at strategy-business.com/ James-OToole.