Last Saturday in Florida, Robert Stempel, the first engineer to become the CEO of General Motors Co. and the former head of Opel, passed away at the age of 77.
Stempel became the managing director of Opel in September 1980 and he became responsible for European-sourced passenger-car operations. He had supported development of the car that later became the Kadett subcompact. A couple of years after, he became the general manager of Chevrolet.
It was in 1958 that Stempel started his career in GM as a detailer in the Oldsmobile chassis design department. In 1990, he was appointed the CEO and chairman of GM. At the time, Wall Street praised him as a "car guy" who could halt the company's losses and reverse GM's dropping market share with a renewed vehicle lineup.
It can be recalled that a day after Stempel took office, Aug. 1, 1990, Iraq moved to invade Kuwait and U.S. vehicle demand plunged.
In a 1992 Reuters profile of Stempel, he made a joked that as chairman, he only had "one good day." In 1992, Stempel was ousted when the board became upset with the increasing losses at GM.
Stempel took a longer time than the board would have liked to restructure GM by shutting down 21 factories and laying off 74,000 workers. Stempel also made the costly mistake of agreeing to a new contract with the United Auto Workers union that made laid-off hourly workers get 95% of their pay.