Jill Lajdziak, Always Saturn’s Champion, Will Retire From GM

By Brendan Moore

10.30.2009

Jill Lajdziak - Saturn GM - GM MediaAutomotive News has published a report stating that Jill Lajdziak, the general manager of Saturn, will retire from General Motors at the end of this year.

In fact, according to the article, Lajdziak has already left the building, so to speak.

She has turned over the wind-down of Saturn to Steve Hill, GM’s head of retail sales support, and is burning saved-up vacation days off somewhere else as she counts down to her actual last day on the books at GM.

Once the deal for Roger Penske to buy Saturn fell through, and GM subsequently announced it would close Saturn forever as a result, there really wasn’t much reason for Lajdziak to hang around.

I met Lajdziak for the first time years ago at a press event, when Saturn introduced some model year of the Ion. I doubt she would remember that, but she probably remembers the last time we spoke, which was at a media event not so long ago for “mommy bloggers”. In their wisdom, GM Media Relations had somehow decided that this would be a good fit for our publication, so I was invited. Hey, we run a blog, right? And, why would we be given any clues as to the other participants?

When I got there, I, of course, loped over to the open bar, as I am wont to do, where I proceeded to not notice that I didn’t see any of the usual writers there. Jill Lajdziak came in the room, came over to meet and greet, and then asked me what I was doing there. An explanation of the event (Saturn’s focus on safety) from her ensued, and I excused myself, with Ms. Lajdziak apologizing on behalf of GM, and promising she’d make it up to me in the future.

But, no more future.

Lajdziak was like that, very gracious and accommodating in person. However, one could fairly say that she garnered mixed reviews from the Saturn dealer organization and from the automotive press. There was some feeling that, as nice as she was, she was in over her head in terms of management abilities.

Lajdziak joined GM as a DSM (district sales manager) for Chevrolet in 1980, but did not find her purpose in life until she joined the not-yet-born Saturn in 1986 as manager of retail selection. Then, she became a Saturn booster of the highest order and their biggest cheerleader. The diminutive Lajdziak was a huge believer in Saturn and the “Saturn difference”, and was nothing if not eternally optimistic about Saturn’s vehicles and Saturn’s future. She became general manager of the brand in 1999.

Unfortunately, like many others at Saturn, Lajdziak’s faith in Saturn sometimes clouded her ability to be objective about the faults and virtues of Saturn vehicles. She wasn’t the only one at Saturn that occasionally had too much Kool-Aid. I remember being at a couple of press events where the Saturn managers were extolling their current cars (Ion and L-Series) at the time, and journalists turning to each other and asking, “Have these guys ever actually driven their competition?” This was not an uncommon occurrence.

But, to her credit, Lajdziak kept smiling and was always pushing Saturn, no matter what the circumstances at whatever moment you saw her. She was always upbeat, always looking to the future, and always happy to talk some more about Saturn.

Her detractors said the Lajdziak was never much more than the effervescent leader of the Saturn cult, but in all fairness, it couldn’t have been much fun to be responsible for Saturn once the initial glow of Saturn’s first years wore off. After all, they did suck up around $5 billion USD from GM’s coffers, and didn’t do much of anything good with it when the rest of the company (Oldsmobile, anyone?) could have sorely used it. GM started starving Saturn, and by the time the division starting getting regular meals again, it was far, far too late.

So, in over her head? I don’t think any brand manager at GM has (or had) the sort of autonomy to save their division, since their marching orders come from up above, so it’s pretty much a moot point. I mean, if John Rock couldn’t save the aforementioned Oldsmobile, that kind of sets the bar in terms of degree of difficulty, doesn’t it?

Regardless, Ms. Lajdziak has gotten in her Saturn Vue and exited the scene. She deserves a nice retirement, just like anyone else.

Saturn stopped production of all vehicles immediately when the Penske deal fell through, dealers are slowly selling off their now-orphan Saturn cars, and the expensive Saturn experiment is now over. The last month that Saturn dealers can legally operate as a Saturn franchise is October 2010.

COPYRIGHT Autosavant – All Rights Reserved

Author: Brendan Moore

Brendan Moore is a Principal Consultant with Cedar Point Consulting , a management consulting practice based in the Washington, DC area. He also manages Autosavant Consulting, a separate practice within Cedar Point Consulting. where he advises businesses connected to the auto industry. Cedar Point Consulting can be found at http://www.cedarpointconsulting.com.

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16 Comments

  1. Roger Smith is the one who shouldd have a special place in Hell for being Saturn’s father.

    What a bad idea.

  2. It is always easy for the media to put their half baked opinion on the web. You may have met Mrs. Lajdziak but you have no idea of what Saturn has gone through. We have many loyal owners and many customers that will follow us and by us I mean “Saturn” through whatever we do in the future. It is funny no one speaks about the loss of jobs within the Saturn family or the communities in which they are located. Call it a cult if you may, but we, like no other car company, have always taken care of our customers and made them our number one priority. It is something you will never understand and it doesn’t really matter. I bet you drive a Honda. Have a nice day.

  3. Maybe with her gone, Penske will put his bid back in.

  4. Any one involved in developeing the Ion should be banned from the auto industry for life.

  5. “We have many loyal owners and many customers that will follow us and by us I mean “Saturn” through whatever we do in the future.”

    Umm, are you delusional? There is no more “we” or “us” or “Saturn”, so unless you know something that no one else knows, you’re in fantasy land.

  6. wheelsgoround…hmmm we are still around and not afraid to use my real name.

  7. I’m totally impartial as per Saturns. I do think it was one of those ‘good ideas’ that should have worked but didn’t. It’s an awful shame to see all those people suddenly thrown out of work. Is there any (even remote) chance another buyer might step in and take the company over before they shut everything down in a year?

  8. Hey, I like my name.

  9. If nothing else, she comitted all the way to Saturn. You have to admire that.

    No halfway measures for her.

  10. Janette Jones:The writer didn’t say that he thought that Saturn owners were part of a cult, he said that others made that statement.It seems you’re hooked up with Saturn or a Saturn fan club in some way, which is cool, but you think this is somehow a knock against people at Saturn, but I think it’s fair what he said. He says GM starved Saturn for years and no one could’ve saved them after that.

    I think Saturn’s gone for good, though, and it ain’t coming back. GM is the one that made that decision, and then Penske made the decision that he wasn’t going to do the deal, so I don’t see anything more for them. They’re not gone yet, but they will be gone completely soon, like Packard, Studebaker, Plymouth, Oldsmobile, Nash, etc

  11. Ask the former Olds dealers how they feel about Saturn.

    But what can you do, GM tells you what to do in terms of the point.

  12. Seems to me the author is too easy on the managers leading these GM brands; it can’t all be the fault of the people at the top. Too many people going along to get along, I think.

    That kind of group-think will kill any company eventually.

  13. Saturn didn’t get enough new product when they needed it. When they got new product, it wasn’t good product.

    They finally get new product that is good a couple of years ago, and are told to “prove themselves” in the middle of an awful recession and while GM is going bankrupt.

    None of this is a secret. We all know why Saturn failed.

  14. Pointclick, I think you covered it.

  15. Poor Saturn – the favorite child when it was young, and then tossed aside as an adult.

  16. Enjoyed this article immensely!

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