Roy Roberts retires from GM

Highest-ranking black executive aided automaker's turnaround

Roy S. Roberts, who helped usher in an ambitious reorganization strategy to boost faltering General Motors’ stateside market share, has retired from the automaker.

Roberts, who held his position as group vice president of GM’s North American Vehicle Sales, Service and Marketing division since October 1998, retired effective April 1. Roberts, who is one of the highest-ranking and most influential African Americans in the automotive industry, made his retirement announcement during a speech to the Automotive News World Congress in Detroit. His retirement ended his nearly 25-year career at GM, where he initially began in manufacturing at the company’s Grand Rapids, Michigan, assembly plant. He left the company briefly in 1988 to become CEO of Navistar International Corp., but returned two years later to head manufacturing at the automaker’s Cadillac division.

Roberts, 61, led the company’s reorganization, streamlining five former marketing divisions into a single sales, service and parts workforce divided into five geographic regions. He was also largely responsible for the company’s merger of its Pontiac and GMC divisions in 1996.

“I’m proud of what my team has achieved in the past year, and I expect greater gains lie ahead,” said Roberts in a statement. “I had considered retiring some time ago, but decided to see the reorganization through.”

GM, which struggled to compete with foreign automakers in the late 1980s and with newer American companies, like Saturn, in the 1990s, rebounded recently to post one of its most impressive years. Unit sales increased 9%, and the company increased its market share in key areas, such as mid-size vehicles and full-size pickup trucks, by nearly 3%, according to company estimates. GM President and CEO G. Richard Wagoner Jr. praised Roberts for his vision and commitment to quality.

“Roy has been a huge contributor to the past decade’s turnaround of General Motors,” says Wagoner. “When glitches arose, Roy acknowledged them and worked with our dealers to fix them. The end result was a faster and more responsive organization. That’s a tribute to Roy’s tenacity and skill.”
Roberts indicated he would be leaving to invest in and run his own business, but would not comment further as he was in negotiations with another party.

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