Last Saturday, former General Motors’ chairman John G. Smale passed away at the age of 84. He headed the automaker starting in 1992 after a major restructuring took place amid economic difficulties. Smale, who was chairman from Nov. 2, 1992 to Dec. 31, 1995, was succeeded by John F. "Jack" Smith, Jr. Smale was the first non-GM executive to become company chairman since Lammot du Pont left his post in 1937.
Smale’s leadership was plagued by the disappointment that its outside directors felt due to the automaker's financial performance in 1991 and 1992. When GM directors announced in April 1992 that Smale would replace Chairman and CEO Robert Stempel as chair of its executive committee, many in the industry and corporate America were stunned. Smale became responsible for setting the goals and priorities of the company.
He was able to control GM's agenda. In effect, directors could vote on their own priorities and programs rather than the management. Smale’s appointment coincided with the demotion and the removal from the board of GM President and COO Lloyd Reuss and Executive Vice President F. Alan Smith – two of Stempel's closest allies. In addition, GM's CFO Robert O'Connell was demoted and reassigned to GMAC.