More Lessons From A Car Guy

February 20, 2012

After nearly 40 years as a CEO at Marriott, I love to read about how others lead.  Recently, I blogged about Bob Lutz's new book "Car Guys vs. Bean Counters," which has many lessons from his tenure with General Motors. Bob Lutz

My 13-year service on the GM Board ended about a year after Bob came aboard.  But I've watched and admired him from afar.  General Motors has weathered some tough times lately and I found Bob's commentary about the problems that they have faced as powerful.  So I shared copies of his book with my senior leadership team.

The great concern I have, as a leader of a large corporation, is the risk of losing sight of the customer and their needs.  All too often big corporations think they know all the answers and become arrogant and inward focused. 

Bob understood that.  He had a gut instinct for focusing on the customer.  For example, at my first board meeting with General Motors, one of their senior leaders informed me that Cadillac was such a strong, wonderful brand there was no need to spend much money enhancing the design or improving the new cars.  When Bob came on board, he paid a lot of attention to Cadillac, which is once again the standard of luxury cars around the world.

In his book, Bob stresses the need to follow your instincts and rely on your own experience in making big business decisions.  He recognizes that there is a place for detailed financial analysis, spread sheets and power point presentations.  But they should never be the driving force guiding the company.

Bob Lutz's Book

Before he came to GM, Bob was a Marine Corps pilot and served in a Marine attack squadron at U.C. Berkeley.  He described a change of command when the squadron was taken over by a modest, humble Lieutenant Colonel who received a battlefield promotion in WW II. 

His name was Art Bauer and his day job was Hose Man #2 at the San Francisco Fire Department.  The squadron was composed of ambitious graduate students at Cal and Stanford who were shocked that such an uneducated man would be their commanding officer.  After the Change of Command ceremony, Colonel Bauer called his 20-odd junior officers together and gave the following talk as Bob Lutz remembered it.  

Colonel Bauer said: “I’m going to stay out of your way because you are all more capable than this old officer.  I don’t expect you to respect me for my flying ability, because it’s not at your level.  But I do want and demand your support and respect.  Not for me, but for the uniform I wear and the rank that is on it. You gentlemen, not I, are going to run this squadron and I don’t want you to let me down.”

Bob Lutz said the doubts and snickering soon stopped.  And, in 18 months Bauer’s squadron was rated number one in the entire Marine Corps Reserve.

Bob wrote that in leadership, as in all things, less is often more.  I hope that as time passes, Marriott leaders will remain faithful to a management style of humility and accountability, like Bob Lutz learned from his old squadron commander and from the mistakes that he witnessed at General Motors.

I’m Bill Marriott and thanks for helping me keep Marriott on the move.

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GM is the best car company hands down!

Good read, I do think its true that leadership has become a very complex and diverse term in today's world, and this understanding brings it back down to a much more simple state. Motivating people to do good work and giving them the power to show off what they are capable of is a simple but effective way to manage.

Thanks for recommending,Really enjoyed this latest blog.
Just ordered the book (on CD) for my fellow hotel leaders.. Truly fits into advice your Dad gave.. "People are No. 1-
their development. loyalty, interest, team spirit. This is your prime responsibilty"
Cannot wait to listen to Mr. Bob Lutz' best practices, leaasons and advice.

Dear Mr.Marriott,
I was in a confused state, but as soon as I read your blog, it was motivating, after being a CEO for 40 years, your passion to see how people lead clearly indicates to the whole world the importance of "continous learning" You are a great leader and we are always proud to be part of Marriott family.Many thanks for showing us the light.Some one told me last week that Knowledge isn't power, "Shared knowledge" is truly power.He referred to great leaders like you with no doubts.Many thanks for sharing all your knowledge.

I always love to read Bill's write up in on the move. They make a lot of sense in daily life.
Keep going Bill!

I really enjoyed reading this article. It is the most concise explanation of what makes a leader that I have seen. I especially enjoyed the line, 'less is more'. I agree completely.

As I read the blog on Bob Lutz and the one prior to that on Dr. Burke, I shake my head at the wonders of the internet.

You have great things to share with us Bill, and I hope you continue to do that for a long time. It is important for us to hear the life's moments for those in position of great responsibility. And a salute to Dr. Burke who enabled you to continue to use your hands effectively.
The blogs are an affirmation of his skill as a surgeon at the time.

I appreciate your blog! Reading it is not just a casual thing, but generally a learning experience. Thank you!

I enjoyed this article and it is staying true to Marriott's view of how management should lead. Thank you for this article. I hope all of your management team have read this article because when you trust the people you put in place to do jobs they are trained to do... It gives us confidence to do the job! This would also inspire confidence in the leadership. "I am only as good as my leader thinks I am".

Thank you once again.

Great comments As my father always told me there is NO JOB that is above you you will learn something from each and take that with you. The same is true for the people you meet .... I have been a teacher of children with differing abilities for 34 years and learn something new from each one that I can use in the future to help another child and their family. If we open our minds and hearts even at a job or in a big city full of strangers we will find a family of friends.
Having said that now Mr. Marriott I need your advice and I am sure you will have a safe and workable solution for me. In June I will be working as a volunteer for my 4th US Open golf Tournament. This year it will be at The Olympic Club in San Francisco and I would like your recommendation for lodging. This will be my first trip to San Francisco so I do not know the area. As a volunteer I pay for my airfare, and lodging and as a Marriott Rewards member I try to use points to cover that base. I do not want to rent a car as I spend 7-8 hours each day at the golf course. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Make a good day and Peace be with you
Coach Debbie Ahrns

Very enjoyable post. I will buy and read this one!