A former General Motors executive speech-writer, Lee (Slumlord) presents a shocking view of the once-preeminent automaker's inner workings as Roger Bonham Smith, chairman since 1980, autocratically pursues a 10-year, ``21st Century'' technological master plan that has failed to avert GM's plunge to a third-place market share. Virtually identical vehicles for all brands from Chevrolet to Cadillac were served up for years, the author recalls, as the new Saturn line and other futuristic projects persistently lagged. To stimulate production, and at a price of $2.55 billion, Smith bought H. Ross Perot's Electronic Data Systems, meshing the two companies to the point of chaos (staff phone directories updated weekly and robots welding car doors shut), then paid $900 million more to buy out and oust Perot himself. Such actions caused the down-spiraling of morale and productivity of union workers, the need for whose cooperation and compensation Smith failed to graspchoosing instead to please economy-minded shareholders with employee layoffs and plant closings (accompanied by hefty top-management bonuses), according to Lee. As portrayed in this somewhat discursive but penetrating inside story, America's largest industrial hierarchy still has a lot to learn. 150,000 first printing; $100,000 ad/promo; first serial to Playboy. (April)
Lee portrays Roger Smith, present chairman and CEO of GM, as a visionary whose spendthrift ways and insensitive management style have threatened the car giant's pre-eminence. Symbolic of the chairman's flawed decision making was acquisition of Ross Perot's EDS Corp. In this act and later dealings with Perot, Smith drained the coffers of GM and caused a serious culture clash between traditional GMers and freewheeling EDS managers. Lee, once a GM speech writer, gives a fascinating description of the interplay between Smith and Perot. But because Smith continues to build a corporation for the 21st century, final judgment of his role lies beyond this highly critical book. Joseph Barth, U.S. Military Academy Lib., West Point, N.Y.