Sometimes things just work out. I probably would have gone to the media luncheon for the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix yesterday anyway but when I saw that Roger Penske was one of the people who’d be there, along with Indy 500 winner Tony Kanaan and other Indycar, Grand Am Rolex and Pirelli Challenge series drivers, as well Jim Campbell and Mark Reuss from GM, I thought it would be an excellent opportunity to ask Penske a question that’s been on my mind. Just about every time there’s some kind of high level executive position around Detroit that’s unfilled or about to go unfilled, Penske’s name comes up as a suggestion. Not everything he touches succeeds, (c.f. smart cars in the U.S.) so he doesn’t have a complete Midas touch, but most of his ventures have done well, some exceptionally so. You can’t say that he’s not a competent manager of businesses and people or that he hasn’t succeeded in some highly competitive situations. I wanted to know if Roger was willing to take the highest profile executive position in Detroit.
The luncheon was at the Rattlesnake Club, right across from the Detroit River Walk, where cars representing the three racing series running on Belle Isle this weekend were sitting with the river as a beautiful backdrop and the various personages were available for photo ops and interviews before the speeches and food. As I was walking from my car to the River Walk, who should be exiting from an SUV but Roger Penske himself, with no entourage.
I asked him, “Roger, would you take the job if they offered it to you?”
“What job is that?” he replied
“Running General Motors.”
“No. I’m too old,” he laughed, “besides, I’m having too much fun doing what I’m doing.”
Then he went on, “I think that they’re well situated with Akerson…”
Since Dan Akerson has many detractors saying that he’s not up to the job, a placeholder, or worse, I was surprised at what at first sounded like an endorsement of Lt. Dan, from Penske, then “the captain” continued, “… and their succession plan.”
Then we crossed Atwater Street and I watched Penske go greet one of the people likely to be on the short list to replace Akerson when he retires within the next couple of years, Mark Reuss, GM’s head of North American operations.
Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS