Lou Hughes was a progressive thinker, or so it appeared. Setting up General Motors' international headquarters in Zurich six years ago seemed inspired.
GM's former head of International Operations established a lean, entrepreneurial team, operating far from Detroit, that made deals in emerging markets faster than anyone except Daewoo.
But the Hughes team may have been too ambitious. The troops at Adam Opel in Germany grew to despise the extra demands that globalization put on them. When Opel quality and sales began to suffer, Hughes and his international group were a natural target of criticism.
Hughes is the loser in a major GM reorganization that did away with International Operations. His new job, head of New Business Strategy, sounds like a dead end.
Actually, General Motors had already reorganized itself, from the bottom up. Once common platforms were created, it was natural to merge the North American and International auto operations. The company has merely shifted the boxes at the top of its organization chart to match what product planners had already worked out.
Ford did it the other way around. It figured out the chart first, then tried to change the organization. That is Ford's way. It designed Ford of Europe 17 years before GM Europe was patterned on the same model.
It conceived its world organization, Ford 2000, in 1994, four years before GM.
But Ford has already moved on. Jacques Nasser, the new chief executive, is creating a post-Ford 2000 that is more responsive to regional conditions.
Unlike Ford, the GM global strategy never took a name. Logic dictated the structure - a single world organization that made Hughes' 'international' job obsolete.
But Hughes was also the victim of the emerging markets downturn, the tenacity of European archrival Volkswagen and his own heavy-handed personal style, which alienated a remarkable number of people in Europe.
And Hughes may not have been as progressive as once appeared. He set up international headquarters outside Detroit, but in effect transplanted a branch of US headquarters in Europe. In the end he clung to the old Detroit ways, exploiting Opel without nurturing it.
GM's new global structure runs a similar risk, with power concentrated in America. Ford has already learned that you can't do that. GM shouldn't wait so long to follow Ford this time.