Final Inspection

Bill Hoglund Dies at 79, Narrowly Missed Top Spot at GM

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The former GM executive credited for revitalizing Pontiac in the 1980s once said, “Whoever did the Aztek ought to be shot.”

Tall, lanky Bill Hoglund, who almost climbed to the pinnacle at General Motors, died unexpectedly at his summer home in Harbor Springs, MI, June 8 at age 79.

Those of us who closely followed his ascendancy over the latter decades of his 36 years at GM found him accessible, likeable, and smart. He was the consummate car guy, even though he grew up on GM’s financial side.

With a degree from Princeton and MBA from the University of Michigan, Hoglund had a well-entrenched GM pedigree: His father and brother also served as vice presidents.

But he also had a common touch. After he was named vice president of the Pontiac Motor Div. in 1980, he invited reporters to his home for a backyard cookout. Featured guest: Racing icon Richard Petty, cowboy hat and all.

That “neighborly” approach followed Hoglund after he resigned in 1995 and retired in Naples, FL, where GM retirees abound. He was one of a number of ex-GM execs I interviewed in 2004 for a feature story in WardsAuto World magazine He was the only one whose home was on an ordinary street rather than in a gated community.

Hoglund often bridled at corporate constraints and was considered by GM power brokers as a maverick who did not always buy into the company line. He was an early proponent of labor-management teamwork and tried, without much success, to inculcate at GM the teachings of W. Edwards Deming on statistical process control and lean-manufacturing techniques. Deming previously attempted to sell his ideas to U.S. automakers but they passed, so he turned to Japanese automakers. They eagerly embraced his thinking, and credited him largely with the huge gains they ultimately made in building quality cars.

Hoglund revitalized Pontiac and went on to a series of pivotal operational posts, including heading its now-defunct Saturn division and the Buick-Oldsmobile-Cadillac (BOC) Group. Although Pontiac’s much-maligned Aztec was introduced long after he left GM, Hoglund once said, “Whoever did the Aztek ought to be shot.”

When GM’s late chairman and CEO Roger B. Smith retired in 1990, it looked like Hoglund might get a shot at the top job.

Instead, engineering whiz Bob Stempel succeeded Smith, breaking with GM’s traditional financial-route-to-the top policy. Lloyd Reuss, father of current GM product chief Mark Reuss, also eyed the CEO slot but had to settle for the presidency.

Stempel was ousted two years later, paving the way for John F. (Jack) Smith Jr. to take command. Again, Hoglund lost the race and was named chief financial officer.

His final post was executive vice president of corporate staffs, not exactly a stimulating assignment for someone with Hoglund’s go-getter personality. So, he retired in 1995 at 61.

Hoglund is survived by his wife, Bev; four children and nine grandchildren. A memorial service will be held in Harbor Springs on Aug.10 and in Naples during the fall.

 

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David E. Zoia

As Editorial Director, I oversee much of what goes into WardsAuto.com, enjoying a ringside seat that lets me observe up close just about every facet of the industry worldwide. I have covered the...

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