Roger Smith (executive)


Roger Bonham Smith (July 12, 1925November 29, 2007) was the Chairman and CEO of General Motors Corporation from 1981 to 1990, and is widely known as the main subject of Michael Moore's 1989 documentary film Roger & Me.


  • The world needs specialists and highly trained people with advanced degrees, no question about it. But the world also needs diversity and versatility. It needs people who know as much about our value system as they do about our solar system system.
    • Roger B. Smith, chairman, General Motors Corporation, at Albion College, Mich. quoted in: U.S. News & World Report Vol 92 (1982). p. 66.
  • We hope this car will be less labor intensive, less material intensive, less everything intensive than anything we have done before.
    • R.B. Smith cited in: Lloyd L. Byars (1987) Strategic management: planning and implementation : concepts and cases p. 150.
    • Smith was talking about the new cars of the Saturn Corporation, a new brand, established as subsidiary of General Motors begin 1985 in response to the success of Japanese automobile imports in the United States.
  • [Roger B. Smith] identified the following skills and mental processes required of today’s managers as those acquired and sharpened in the study of the liberal arts.
    1. Individuals are trained to recognize recurring elements and common themes.
    2. They are trained to see relationships between things that may seem different.
    3. They are trained to combine familiar elements into new forms.
    4. They learn to arrange their thoughts in logical order, to write and speak clearly and economically.
    5. They learn to tolerate ambiguity and to bring order out of confusion.
    6. They are accustomed to a relatively unstructured and unsupervised research and discovery process and feel comfortable with nonconformity.
    7. They have insight into the fit of form with function.
    8. They have learned sideways thinking, the cross classifying habit of mind that comes from learning many different ways to look at things.
    9. They have learned to replace confrontation with cooperation and the principles of conflict resolution.
    10. They have learned the importance of intellectual integrity, social responsibility, and ethical commitment.
    11. They learn that the effective management of change comes from the habit of being receptive to new information, to new paths to traditional goals, even to new goals.
    12. They have learned to uncover truths in many forms, and that an answer need not be final.
    13. They need to see the worth of the impact of what they do, to understand its place in the larger schemes of things.
    14. They learn about the kinds of creativity that leads to visionary solutions
  • I don’t expect them to build a big stone monument to me; that’s not my goal in life. I’d like to think that if I did anything extraordinary, it was the work that we did in getting the corporation ready for the 21st century.

The liberal arts and the art of management (1987)

Roger Smith (1987) "The liberal arts and the art of management". In Educating managers: Executive effectiveness through liberal learning, ed. Johnston et al., 21-33. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass;
  • Liberal Arts may ultimately prove to be the most relevant learning model. People trained in the Liberal Arts learn to tolerate ambiguity and to bring order out of apparent confusion. They have the kind of sideways thinking and cross-classifying habit of mind that comes from learning, among other things, the many different ways of looking at literary works, social systems, chemical processes or languages.
  • The ultimate impact of the liberal arts on the art of management, then, is a major contribution to the evolution of an ethical and humanistic capitalism -- a system that stimulates innovation, fosters excellence, enriches society, and dignifies work.
    • As cited in: G. Page West, Elizabeth J. Gatewood, Kelly G. Shaver (2009) Handbook of University-wide Entrepreneurship Education. p. 225.
  • Whether you are carving a statue or reorganizing a corporation, you have a vision of what you want to create, as well as a sense of how to make that vision real by bringing different elements together according to an overall pattern... And just as artists communicate their intent through their works, managers must be able to convey their vision in an inspiring and forceful way - in other words to lead - or else that vision will never be fully realized.
    • As cited in: Elizabety A Dreyer (1996) "Excellence in the Profession." Theological Education Vol 33. Nr. 1. (Autumn 1996). p. 11.

Quotes about Roger Smith

  • Roger B. Smith [is] the General Motors executive who tried to modernize the American automotive giant during the 1980s but instead became associated with its decline.
  • Roger Smith’s tenure was one of the darkest in General Motors’ history, for customers, workers and for residents of G.M.’s factory towns.
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