A review of
Car Guys vs. Bean Counters: The Battle for the Soul of American Business
by Bob Lutz
and Shift: Inside Nissan's Historic Revival
by Carlos Ghosn and Philippe Riès

cover of book cover of book

Both of these memoirs are about the recent history of the automotive industry, and both are written by admirable and fascinating men with big egos. That's where their similarity ends.

Bob Lutz' story focuses on the latter part of his career, when he helped begin General Motors' turnaround in the 2001-2009 time frame. As the title suggests, Lutz felt that GM had become obsessed with process over product, and was dominated by accountants who scarcely knew what business the company was in. According to his own account, Lutz tried to emphasize design over marketing and to do away with unnecessary departments who added little to the bottom line. The likable Lutz calls politicians who instituted Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards rather than a gas tax cowards, lauds the team that created the Volt in the wake of the EV1 disaster, and details the difficulty of making the best of GM's unavoidable slide into bankruptcy. Car Guys is a readable and mostly generous account of a lot of good people at GM trying to wrest control of a bad situation.

Carlos Ghosn's Shift is a more conventional memoir that relates his childhood in Brazil after his family's emigration from Lebanon and proceeds to his engineering education in France. After graduation, Ghosn went to work for Michelin, under whose employ he returned to Brazil and then, later, ran North American operations. Ghosn describes his frank admiration for François Michelin, who inspired in him many of the management ideals that allowed Ghosn to join Renault and manage the Renault-Nissan Alliance. The fact that a Lebanese-Brazilian engineer sheparded the successful cultural accomodation of a French-Japanese merger is the more stunning the more the reader considers it. Ghosn takes time to expand on his inspiring management philosophy, including advice about fostering loyalty and identity in multinational teams. Where Lutz' book is informative and entertaining, Ghosn's is downright inspirational.

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alison@she-devel.com (Alison Chaiken)