The New Boss: A Car Guy

Since entrepreneur and stock-market speculator Billy Durant first cobbled together a venture he called General Motors in 1908, the company has always been ruled by finance men, numbers wizards and balance-sheet fixers. No one was a better example of this than Roger Smith, a diffident financial virtuoso who led the company during the 1980s. But when Smith retired last July after a decade in which GM lost one-fourth of its U.S. market share, mostly because of weak products, GM's board made history by promoting an engineer to the chairman's job.

The fix-it man is Robert Stempel, 57, a 6-ft. 4-in. former...

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