Remembering Maryann Keller: Pioneer, Truth Teller, and Role Model

However, Automotive News did, because the editor at the time, Bob Lienert, hired several of us.

It was a tumultuous time for Detroit automakers, especially GM. Roger Smith had become Chairman and CEO. He is committed to transforming GM into the mobility company of the future. Sounds familiar.

To that end, GM underwent a massively painful reorganization.

He bought stakes in various companies, from startups specializing in technologies such as artificial intelligence to massive acquisitions like that of Electronic Data Systems – led by Ross Perot – and Hughes Aircraft Co. All did not go well. , and they turned out to be a distraction from the vehicle manufacturing business. GM’s market share fell throughout the decade.

Maryann was among the first to warn that it could happen. She saw the Japanese automakers’ threat to the Detroit 3 before they recognized it. She was a versatile industry expert, but she knew GM better. His accumulated knowledge led to the award-winning book Rude Awakening: The Rise, Fall, and Struggle to Take Over General Motorspublished in 1989.

Like other journalists, I turned to Maryann for information, ideas and quotes. As all journalists who dealt with her attested when I announced her passing, she was always accessible and quick to respond. She explained things in easy-to-understand language, but also delivered a juicy soundtrack. She was generous with her time and patient with those of us new to the industry, perhaps because she too was a newbie.

A chemical engineer by training, she seized the opportunity to become an automotive analyst knowing practically nothing about the industry. Likewise, I became an automotive journalist knowing nothing about the industry at first.

I distinctly remember how Maryann listened, watched and spoke. She communicated with everyone and looked at everyone, from the guy on the phone—perhaps because her father was a factory worker—to the men in C-suites around the world. She listened more than she spoke.

Ask her a question, and often there would be a long – sometimes uncomfortably long – silence as she deliberately considered how to answer. She would stop to think and you would fidget, wondering if you should jump in with another question. It was best to wait because what she had to say was always intelligent, analytical and often, as one journalist wrote, “a different approach to the rest of the pack.”

She did not accept the company’s course of action but made her own decision. She had the uncanny ability to see farther down the road than the others.

Automakers didn’t always like its grip. She was often harshly critical. Yet they listened to her and respected her. As one person commented, echoing a long time ago Los Angeles Times title, she talks, and the industry listens.

She earned Wall Street’s all-star analyst title for a dozen years and consistently ranked No. 1 on Institutional investors list of the best.

Maryann pushed me to consider becoming an automotive analyst in the ’80s. There’s no way I’m like her, I thought. Eventually I made the change via an unplanned route, but I will never hold a candle to it.

She was a pioneer. His encouragement and vote of confidence stayed with me. I learned a lot from her – about the industry, about how to get the job done, about reinventing yourself and taking the roundabout way like she did.

I’m just sorry that I never got to tell her what a role model she was. Peaceful journeys, Maryann.

Rebecca R. Santistevan