History's 10 worst auto chiefs

A bad leader will inflict serious damage on any company. But for automakers, the results are often catastrophic.

worst auto ceos intro

There are no faceless CEOs in the auto industry today. On the contrary: People in the car business worry about a cult of personality developing around the current generation of company leaders. General Motors' Dan Akerson finds himself in the newspaper whenever he supports a charity; Fiat-Chrysler's Sergio Marchionne has become the industry's latest miracle worker due to his surprising revival at the home of Jeep; and Ford's Alan Mulally has been accorded near God-like status in recognition of his automaker's historic turnaround.

Personality cults work as long as good things keep happening for the object of adulation, but downturns can be brutal. Look at what's happened to the reputation of Renault-Nissan's Carlos Ghosn since his EV forecast fell short. Mythologizing a leader can also take a toll when it comes to developing a succession plan. Who wants to follow a hero? There isn't much room on the upside. High-performing CEOs often have the benefit of fortunate turns in the economic cycle that twist in the opposite direction once they leave office.

But having a big guy at the top is scant price to pay when you consider the wreckage that a bad CEO can inflict. Management mistakes in the auto industry are more painful than almost anywhere else. Enormous capital investments mean that losses can easily reach billions of dollars, and long product cycles mean that a wrong turn can hobble a company for a number of years.

With that in mind, here's my list of the worst CEOs in the history of the auto industry:

  @FortuneMagazine - Last updated April 03 2013 06:23 AM ET
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