Where Have You Gone, John DeLorean?

Remember John DeLorean? Not the car, the man. It’s a shame he’s so tied into the plutonium-powered, 1.21 Gigawatt because his greatest contributions are getting overlooked.

John DeLorean came from a low-income, immigrant family, served in World War II, got his BA in mechanical engineering and his MA in automotive engineering. Then he went to work for Chrysler during the day, and earned his MBA at night.

He joined Packard, they made him head of research and development. Then in 1956 GM recruited him, thus beginning one of the great car careers in American history.

He began as the director of advance engineering for Pontiac and ended, really, just one step short of president of car and truck production for the full line of GM brands. He turned Pontiac around, Chevrolet too. Wherever they put him, John DeLorean delivered. Big.

A former employee remembers him this way “He was like a breath of fresh air …He had a certain flair about him that made working for him exciting … he transformed Pontiac into a vehicle of excitement, speed, the design of the future, and a management system that was not afraid to work outside of the box.”

Once he came to a meeting wearing “a sports jacket, no tie, and deck shoes with no socks.” It may be standard today (aside from deck shoes, I don’t know what those are), but back then—unheard of.

DeLorean was an engineer, a designer, creator, doer. He reached nearly the very top of GM because he built cars, he made them. He learned to sell them. He inspired those around him. He had a presence.

  • GM CEO Rick Waggoner joined GM as an analyst in the treasurer's office.
  • Chrysler CEO Robert Nardelli is a career executive.

But Ford CEO Alan Mulally has a BS and an MS in aeronautical and astronautical engineering. He was Boeing’s VP of Engineering. He worked on every Boeing from the 727 through the 777. He told Congress Ford doesn’t need a bail-out but recommended one for GM lest they collapse and drag everybody under.

Mulally’s no DeLorean, but Detroit’s current executive suite is bankrupt of leadership without him. So he might just be the next best thing.

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