By on June 1, 2013

Roger Penske talks with recent Indy 500 winner Tony Kanaan as Jim Campbell (L), head of performance and motorsports for GM, and Mark Reuss (R), GM president for North America, look on.

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

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11 Comments on “Roger Penske: No Thanks, I’m Having Too Much Fun To Give That Up To Run General Motors...”

  • avatar

    The fact that he was without an entourage, and honestly answered a question in an informal environment while still holding the company line proves he is overqualified.

  • avatar

    what makes him overqualified is that he knows one end of a car from another, and has actually sold them firsthand…

    • 0 avatar

      I would think what makes him overqualified is he seems like he actually admits mistakes and has tried to reflect on both is successes and failures.

      • 0 avatar

        Penske is by no means dense, but he’s also by no means the quasi business genius he’s so often portrayed as.

        I might even be willing to take a hefty wager (assuming that modesty and humility rather than an ingloriously large ego is at work) that Roger would concede that luck and government subsidization have played a massive role in saving his erstwhile financial bacon.

        (Of course, it is important to note that government subsidization via brutal taxpayer raping – past, present and ongoing – has been a much larger factor in saving the hide of “people” such as Warren Buffet and his co-partner in crime/taxpayer rapings…one Charlie Munger).

  • avatar

    I can remember when Roger was one of the last ‘privateer” sports car racers. His cars always impressed me, as they were prepared to the Nth degree, and spotless. In my mind, I equated him with Briggs Cunningham, a gentleman racer with independent means. I cannot imagine him wanting to assume the thankless task of running the General, especially in this post-bankruptcy atmosphere. I am one who believes that a man can literally grow into his calling, and with his upbringing, being a childhood observer of his father and the dinner conversations between his parents and their guests, I have to think that our fellow commentator, Mark Reuss, is uniquely qualified to assume the crown. Of course we know what Shakespeare said and wrote about the heads the crowns sat upon.

  • avatar

    Treasury is systematically selling off its GM stock, and I think Akerson will hold on until it’s no longer “Government Motors” with all the Treasury’s restrictions on compensation, and he can take the credit while cashing in. The CEO job might be worth something after that.

  • avatar

    Think Ford First.

    ASSUMING that Penske would make a successful CEO of a multinational automotive manufacturer, rather than presupposing such due to his success in growing and profitably running a large network of auto retail dealerships, and based on current events and developments, I’d suggest he’d be a more highly prized candidate by Ford than GM.

    Ford is really imploding (is combusting more appropriate?) at an alarming pace in terms of their fundamental product design and fabrication, along with quality control:
    May 31, 2013 at 8:49 pm
    Ford issues 3 recalls, including one for 465K vehicles
    Potential leaky fuel tanks, fire risks cited in largest of 3 issued

    This is now the umpteenth recall on the ecoboosted Ford for engine fires (it’s in the article, and it’s not just leaky fuel tanks), along with a new one concerning the new MKfuZions/Fusions whereby improperly assembled steering gears may cause loss of steering ability (since these gears were built without an internal retaining clip).

    Then there’s the whole F Series fiasco regarding engine and/or torque converter issues putting the ecoboost 3.5 liter ecoboost motors into limp mode, even at highway speeds (or especially at highway speeds).

    Is anyone home at Ford? Is anyone getting off their ass to address what is a waterfall of quality control FUBARs at anything remotely resembling a semi-brisk pace?

    It takes a long time to build consumer trust and reliability/quality goodwill perceptions, and a literal fraction of that time to destroy the same.

    I won’t even bother to “pile on” and mention the ecoboost drinking and driving (fuel un-economy) problems, as widely reported by Consumer Reports or many, many recent disappointed Ford vehicle purchasers, let alone the litany of other problems plaguing Ford (*cough* PowerShutter, MT82, MyFordTouch *cough*).

    Nor would I dare to mention that new Honda Accord in non-aspirated 4 banger base motor is banging out an approximate 30% faster to 60 time than the Fusion’s mill while BESTING any Fusion motors’ fuel economy, save the Fusion in gussied up Hybrid dress.

    One could be forgiven for thinking the other Roger (i.e. Smith) has been resurrected like Bernie from his weekend follies, and is batting DH for FoMoCo.

    • 0 avatar

      Ford simply bit off more than it could chew from a technological standpoint, now they reap the whirlwind. All of the majors are guilty of this at one point or another and I wouldn’t blame Mulally for going in the direction he did… blame dot gov for their ridiculous and unrealistic mileage obsessions forcing Ford and others to quickly re-engineer the ICE and transmission technologies to get blood from a stone.

  • avatar

    “(c.f. smart cars in the U.S.)” [sic]

    Mr. Schreiber, not to be pedantic, but it’s cf. not c.f., and it is usually used with an explicit comparison, rather than an implicit one. It’s short for confer in Latin, which is why there is only one period.

    In that sentence, you’re probably better off using e.g. instead cf. A better sentence if you really wanted to use cf. would have been something like:

    Roger Penske has done quite well in the business world (e.g. Penske Racing and Penske Auto Group), but he doesn’t have a complete Midas touch (cf. smart cars in the U.S.).

    It’s more often used in journal articles where the author cites one reference and asks the reader to compare it to another reference that says something else.

    Back to discussing Mr. Penske, I wonder what would have happened with Saturn had Penske successfully purchased it. My understanding was that he had planned to license vehicles from Renault Samsung, Renault’s subsidiary in Korea, which manufactures Renault-based vehicles. We might have had a Saturn Qashqai made in Korea (or maybe more likely a Saturn Koleos). The Red Line version could have had a VQ!

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