“Moreno has his own ‘Roger and Me’ tale” AutomotiveNews
In 1982, a 14-year-old Bernie Moreno wanted to be the next Roger Smith, General Motors’ CEO at the time.
Moreno, who owns 10 dealerships in his Bernie Moreno Cos., was an immigrant from Colombia. His goal was to move to Michigan from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where he grew up, to attend the University of Michigan, then pursue a career at GM.
So he put pen to paper, mailing Smith a letter. The CEO was impressed enough to write a lengthy reply that began: “It’s not often I receive a letter from someone who is planning to take over my job.”
Smith congratulated Moreno for “knowing exactly what it is you want to do once you complete your high school and college education. Most fellows your age haven’t given a lot of thought to their future career.”
The three-page, single-spaced, typewritten letter from Smith sits in Moreno’s home, but he gladly shares it and the story behind it. Moreno’s letter to Smith was inspired by studying President Woodrow Wilson’s 14 points for peace negotiations to end World War I.
Moreno offered Smith nine points on how to improve GM. They included suggestions that GM:
• Install a “burglar-proof door” to protect against car theft
• Improve its vehicle quality
• Assign each employee a special number
• Combine Chevrolet and Pontiac
• Offer customers a movie showing various vehicle color choices
• Make aluminum engines to reduce weight and boost fuel economy.
Smith’s reply was not patronizing. He methodically addressed each of Moreno’s points. For example, “We believe we’ve improved our quality tremendously, especially in the new models we’ve recently introduced, and can match anything the Japanese are doing. In fact, we’re even ahead of them in some areas, such as paint finish,” Smith wrote.
On Moreno’s idea to combine Chevrolet and Pontiac and call the new organization M-1 Motors, Smith wrote: “I don’t quite see what gains would come from such a move, especially as long as each of our five car divisions continue to generate positive sales volumes and profits and contribute to our maintaining a dominant position in the marketplace.”
As to aluminum engines, Smith wrote, “We have been experimenting with engines having an all aluminum block. At present, some of our engines have aluminum components to decrease weight.”
Smith closed by assuring Moreno, “I’ll try my best to make sure that General Motors is in “good financial shape’ when you join us eleven years from now.”
Little did Smith know that Moreno would join GM sooner than that. GM’s Saturn division hired Moreno as a college intern in 1987 and as a full-time analyst in 1989. He worked there until 1993, when Boston dealer Herb Chambers lured Moreno into auto retail. The rest, as they say, is history.