25 years ago on this very day, a living God graced us with his feline presence: Howie Makem. The quality cat. World famous ambassador to all things GM is celebrating his birthday today.
Back in the good old days of the 1980’s, GM needed inspiration for their pursuit of quality. At Ford, quality was job one. Chrysler offered a long warranty. Toyota, Honda and Nissan were at the forefront of lean production methods, and Europe offered Volvos
and Benzes that were made out of Nordic metal and recycled German Messerschmitts. GM had the Chevy Citation.
It was decided that something had to be done. Special committees were formed and within a matter of weeks, the belching black smoke that came out of the roof of GM headquarters via a Chevrolet Chevette diesel signified a new initiative for the company.
A human sized cat with the “head of a Datsun”, as lineworker Ben Hamper put it, was given a plastic cape and marching orders to change GM quality by any means necessary.
This meant walking around factories and waving. No, that last sentence is not a joke. GM hired the then un-named Quality Cat to walk around and wave to all the assembly line workers while they were busy installing rivets on trucks whose designs dated to the Nixon era.
It worked in much the same way as putting various small flags on Oldsmobiles made them more competitive with imports. The line workers cheered on their new savior for all things quality, and were even given the rare privilege of naming the human sized, cape wearing mascot.
“Management announced that they would reward the most creative of these entries with a week’s use of a company truck. Hot damn! The eventual winner of the contest was a worker who stumbled upon the inspired moniker Howie Makem. Sadly, my intriguing entry, Wanda Kwit, finished way the hell down the list somewhere right between Roger’s Pussy and Tuna Meowt.” (click here for the full story)
A star had been born. At least for a short while. Rumor has it that Howie Makem’s popularity was soon a liability in the insular GM universe that was the 14th floor, and a long line of enemies soon emerged.
GM unfortunately had three other feline Howies vying for CEO Roger Smith’s attention at the time. Howie Rakem, assistant to GM’s Chief Financial Officer. Howie Fakem, lead engineer for the Cadillac Cimarron, and Howie Takem, chief architect for the Hamtramck plant which required the condemnation and eviction of over a thousand Poletown residents.
The three Howies considered the idea of a quality cat to be about as welcome as a stupid dog, and quietly gave Howie his walking papers.
Since then Howie Makem is rumored to have moved to Reno where he has decided to reach out to the greater GM community along with fans the world over. So please. say a happy birthday to Howie today, and perhaps offer him a little kibble for all the good work he did back in the day.