GM’s Reuss: Smart. And Honest

Mark Reuss is one of the smart guys in the auto industry.

Mark Reuss is one of the smart guys in the auto industry. I remember one year at the annual Center for Automotive Research Management Briefing Seminars sitting in the back of the room with Reuss. As someone or another was bloviating with platitudes about the industry, Reuss was commenting in a low voice the truth of the matter.

I think that’s why I like the guy.

Too many people—especially at the domestic companies of years’ past—seem to have been too willing to tout ridiculous party lines. That, in large part, had something—more than a little something, I should note—to do with the comparative decline of those companies through the years. The present condition of Ford is explained, or can be explained, by the fact that Alan Mulally came from outside the industry, and therefore wasn’t inculcated with the line of crap; both Mark Fields, executive vp of Ford, and president, Ford of the Americas, and Derreck Kuzak, group vice president, Global Product Development, spent considerable parts of their careers not only outside of Dearborn, but outside of the U.S.; and Jim Farley, group vice president of Global Marketing and Canada, Mexico and South America operations for the Ford Motor Co., came from Toyota. Not a bona-fide “homer” among them. (This should not be construed as their not believing in their company, put to make the point that they have had sufficient distance to not buy into the “We’re better because we say we are” thinking that has for too long been too pervasive.)

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Reuss, now vice president, Global Vehicle Engineering, had previously been GM Asia-Pacific vice president and chairman and managing director of GM Holden—the Australian operation of GM. The distance between Detroit and Melbourne is about 9,900 miles, so that certainly counts as distance.

In a recent story in The Detroit Free Press by Mark Phelan, Reuss, who has been with GM for 26 years, is quoted as saying, “Reliability has been the Achilles’ heel of GM for my entire career.”

That admission is nothing short of breathtaking. That was quoted last week, and Reuss still has a job, so if you’re looking for evidence that GM has changed, there it is.

In the current issue of Time Compression, our sister publication, Roger Martin, dean of the Rotman School at the University of Toronto, suggests that market research would be better done by a CEO talking to 100 customers or prospects than having 10,000 of them filling out questionnaires that are then interpreted by a marketing organization. Feet on the ground is better than feet under the boardroom table.

And what Reuss and his team of engineers are doing is calling up customers who have taken up GM on its “May the Best Car Win” return policy to find out why they’ve returned their cars. Yes, Reuss too.  They are truly finding out, not just reading a report.

A smart guy, indeed.