- The Washington Times - Friday, November 10, 2000

The first company car he ever drove was a 1981 Olds Cutlass, says Rick Wagoner, chief executive of General Motors. His latest company car will be the quirky Pontiac Aztek, which Mr. Wagoner concedes is "out on the edge."
It's not just the company cars that are being transformed from conservative to funky these days. There's also a new breed of executives who run the car companies.
Mr. Wagoner, for example, a rolled-up shirtsleeves kind of guy, was anxious to leave work on time to accompany his youngest son on his recent Halloween rounds. "They're growing up fast and I want to be able to share these things while I can," said the 47-year-old dad, who's been known to skip weekend business trips to watch his oldest son participate in sporting events.
Ford boss Jac Nasser, 52, known for his dapper Savile Row suits, last year was spied working on the line at the Wayne, Mich., assembly plant, struggling to install wiring harnesses on Escorts, trying to understand in a hands-on way what it means to work on an assembly line.
Mr. Nasser has gone cruising with California high school students and telephones customers at home to talk about their new Ford vehicles.
DaimlerChrysler Corp. chief Jim Holden rarely passes up a chance to compare car notes with employees and was instrumental in instituting last May's Wild Wheels event at DCC headquarters in Auburn Hills, Mich., where workers were invited to bring their favorite car to work. Mr. Holden has five collector cars, including a 1957 Thunderbird that he redid with his children several years ago.
And then there's Carlos Ghosn, Nissan's new president and chief operating officer, sent from French alliance partner Renault to rescue the Japanese car maker from bankruptcy. A Brazilian-born whiz kid, Mr. Ghosn last year laid his new job on the line, pledging to company employees that if he couldn't fix Nissan in one year's time, he would step down. Gone. Out of there.
Every chief executive puts his job on the line if his company sinks. But in this case, Mr. Ghosn was sent to resuscitate a company already submerged. Who wants to let a guy down who says he'll be the first to lose his job if things don't work out? And who in Japan can resist an outsider willing to commit to a months-long regimen of language study to secure a solid grasp of conversational Japanese?
You can make the case that these guys get the big bucks and are expected to go the extra mile. But there still are plenty of generals who are insulated from their troops. I'll put my money on the CEO who doesn't mind getting down and dirty. Or one who cherishes his children enough to put them first.

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