IT IS nearly impossible to be involved in the auto industry and not have heard of Bob Lutz. The Swiss-born, US-based car marketing genius is known as the brain behind a variety of hugely successful products on both sides of the Atlantic, including the BMW 3-series, Ford Explorer, Dodge Viper and the Chevrolet Beat. In a career spanning half a decade that began with General Motors (GM) in 1963, Lutz worked in key management positions at BMW, Ford, Chrysler and battery maker Exide, before coming back to General Motors in 2001 and finally retiring in 2010.
But there is more to the man, one of the few outspoken industry executives, who has often been a vocal critic of both the companies and the government policies. Lutz, who today works as a consultant and runs a boutique car company, VL Automotive, has also authored three books to date. His latest and the third book, Icons and Idiots: Straight Talk on Leadership, is a quest to find what makes a leader most effective in his role, despite the many quirks that we all as humans possess. Each chapter is dedicated to a different leader that Lutz worked under and the learning gathered from it that helped him in his career.
Lutz starts from the beginning, from fond memories of his high school teacher in Switzerland back in 1952. Georges-Andre Chevallaz, a man who would later join politics and become the president of Switzerland, is remembered for his highly-disciplined daily rigour that he trains his students towards. A model leader in Lutz’s eyes, Chevallaz stood for the highest degree of professionalism and dedication to his work, accepting nothing but the best results from his students. Tough on those he found lacking in dedication, Chevallaz’s style of teaching was fair yet strict. Lutz, who feels such methods are far more effective in training young adults than the gentler approach to teaching practised in schools today, maintained contact with Chevallaz till his death in 2002.
Lutz moves on to his nine-year-long stint with the US Marines Corps, and the harsh surprises that army training brings that one is never really prepared for. The next leader in his life, Staff Sergeant Donald Giusto, believed in transforming “civilian turds” to army men in a matter of 12 weeks. Lutz highlights how army training is essential for all and how it prepares one for whatever surprises life may throw