Here’s another one of those unique leaders who falls into that peculiar category of “You’ve probably never heard of him but would have benefited greatly if you had!” Obviously, I just created that category, but I can think of a number of great leaders who would certainly qualify for inclusion. In fact, that’s one of the reasons why we established this particular column. We hope we can shed some light on many of these leaders who are definitely well-known and well-respected in their own circles and industries but relatively unknown by those outside of those areas.
I must admit that I would know little or nothing about Robert A. Lutz if not for my long-time relationship with Chrysler, Ford and General Motors as a trainer and consultant. It didn’t take me long to recognize the fact that he was highly respected by all three corporations and contributed greatly to each in many critical ways as well.
- He’s not only a very talented man, but he falls into many other genres as well.
- He’s a “Car Guy” through and through.
- He’s a proud former Marine fighter pilot and still lives the values he learned in the Corps.
- He’s the quintessential maverick who says what he believes rather than what he believes others want to hear.
- He’s a high achiever and very successful businessman who didn’t graduate from high school until he was 22.
- Born in Zurich, Switzerland, in 1932, he’s a vegetarian who relishes a good cigar.
- He’s well-known as an avid collector of classic automobiles and military jets.
- He’s a firm believer in the balance of common sense and free-wheeling creativity, and that’s certainly a rarity in today’s world.
- He has held senior management positions in four of the world’s top car companies: Ford, General Motors, BMW, and Chrysler.
- He has a tremendous sense of humor and upbeat look on life. For instance, he often shares his “Law of Life” which he borrowed from an old Rolling Stones song which suggests: “You Can’t Always Get What You Want—But If You Try Sometime, You Just Might Find, You Get What You Need.”
Let’s take a quick overview of an incredible career.
- He was a U.S. Marine aviator from 1954 to 1959 (and remained in reserves until 1965).
- He began his automotive career in September 1963 at GM, where he held a variety of senior positions in Europe until December 1971.
- For the next three years, he served as executive vice president of sales at BMW in Munich and as a member of that company’s board of management. He’s credited in the development of the BMW 3-Series. He is one of few senior automotive executives with experience in both hemispheres and more than one major manufacturer.
Lutz joined the Ford Motor Company in 1974 where he held several senior executive positions until 1986 … Chairman of Ford of Europe, Executive Vice President of Ford International Operations, Vice President in charge of Ford Truck Operations and a member of Ford’s Board of Directors. At Ford he led the creation of the Ford Sierra, initiated development of the original Ford Explorer and spearheaded importation of models from Ford of Europe to the United States.
In 1986, Lutz moved to Chrysler Corporation as the executive initially primarily responsible for product development where he oversaw the development of the Dodge Viper, Plymouth Prowler and Chrysler LH platform automobiles; subsequently he became president and chief operating officer, and then vice chairman. In 1998, Lutz became the Chairman and CEO of Exide Technologies.
In September of 2001, Lutz returned to General Motors as Vice Chairman of Product Development. He then became an Interim President of GM Europe. Lutz has been Vice Chairman of Global Product Development of General Motors Corporation since March 2008 and serves as its Acting Chief Executive Officer of GM Europe.
Read his best-selling book GUTS, and you’ll get valuable insight into not only his rare sense of humor but also his unusual, but successful, approach to business in today’s ever-changing, chaotic and competitive environment. In this book he shares his Immutable Laws of Business. At first glance, you may think he’s way off base. After all, these laws go against everything we’ve ever been taught. However, read on to laugh, understand, and quickly agree with his philosophy.
LAW #1: The Customer Isn’t Always Right.
LAW #2: The Primary Purpose of Business Is Not to Make Money.
LAW #3: When Everybody Else Is Doing It, Don’t!
LAW #4: Too Much Quality Can Ruin You.
LAW #5: Financial Controls Are Bad!
LAW #6: Disruptive People Are an Asset.
LAW #7: Teamwork Isn’t Always Good.
LAW #8: When You Inherit a Really Big Rat’s Nest, Don’t Try to Lure Them out with Food. Use a Flamethrower.
Robert Lutz truly believes that every organization must cultivate a “split personality,” combining common sense with freewheeling creativity. It defines the leader’s role in maintaining a healthy balance between the two. And it argues that a dynamic tension between them is the prime attribute that enables top-performing companies to introduce new products and achieve record profits.
This is a leader you’ll definitely want to learn more about.