Robert Stempel: Man in The Hot Seat

Car buff Robert Stempel aims to put a new shine on GM's image

If his chauffeur-driven car were to break down, General Motors president Robert Stempel is the sort of guy who would roll up his sleeves, look under the hood and fix it himself. Coming of age in Bloomfield, N.J., in the early 1950s, Stempel toiled during the summer as a garage mechanic. After joining GM as an engineer in 1958, he designed a front-wheel-drive transmission for the 1966 Oldsmobile Toronado. Stempel's success with the front-wheel drive, a radical departure that later became a standard feature, accelerated his movement up the corporate ladder.

By 1987 the 6-ft. 4-in. former college-football tackle had gone...

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