A member of GM's board since 1982, Smale was named chairman at a difficult turning point for the automaker. With the economy in recession and the first Gulf War waging in the Middle East, GM's profits were at a long-time low; it was burdened with overwhelming overhead costs and its vehicles were selling slowly. The traditionally linked role of chairman and CEO was split in two, with Smale named chairman and John F. Smith Jr. named chief executive.
Under their joint leadership, Smale and Smith (who eventually replaced him) shook things up in Detroit and turned around GM's financial fortunes from the brink of collapse. Having served as president, CEO and chairman of Procter & Gamble during the 1980s, Smale continued to serve on the GM board through 2002. He passed on Saturday at the age of 84. Our thoughts and condolences are with his bereaved friends and family.