Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Auto executives display a lighter side

Saturday, October 21, 2006
Business Insider
Auto executives display a lighter side
The Detroit News

The Society of Automotive Engineers annual retreat at The Greenbrier resort in West Virginia has become a venue for hard-bitten auto executives to show their lighter side. Last year, GM purchasing czar Bo Andersson drove all over the Mountain State to find a Dracula costume after he was referred to as a blood-sucking vampire in the comedic opening of the executive confab.

Last week at The Greenbrier, it was Delphi Chairman Steve Miller's turn to show he has a sense of humor. Donning a top hat, shades and a feather boa, Miller walked on stage in the morning, saying he had so much fun at the prior evening's Cotton Club-themed party that he stayed out all night. Miller then proceeded to anchor a "Saturday Night Live"-style mock newscast that's a tradition at the conference. Miller took aim at Ford's purchasing chief Tony Brown saying it was so cold the night before that Mr. Brown was spotted with his hands "in his own pockets."

Steakout returns

For those who missed the frivolity of the SAE conference at The Greenbrier, the mock newscast will be reprised Wednesday at the Steakout, a night of ribald jokes and skits hosted by the Detroit Press Club Foundation. The Steakout fundraiser returned last year after a long break and left no auto executive, politician or sports figure unskewered. Business Insider has learned this year's Steakout will be just as tasteless -- and funny.

Among the revelations expected:

The real story about the "unanimous" GM board vote to reject the alliance with Renault-Nissan. Dissident director Jerry York was apparently in the restroom when the voice vote was taken.

The untold story of a Detroit Lions assistant football coach and his love of fast food. (Note: This bit contains nudity. Parental guidance recommended.)

Could he really be The One? A secret videotape has been located of the first meeting between Ford Chairman Bill Ford Jr. and new CEO Alan Mulally set to the theme of "Endless Love."

The Steakout takes place at the Marriott Renaissance in downtown Detroit. The event begins at 6 p.m. and features a reception, dinner and show.

The ticket price for the Steakout has dropped from $250 last year to $150 this year. All proceeds will be donated to the Goodfellows, the Old Newsboys' charity that annually provides needy local children with Christmas gifts, and the Detroit Press Club Foundation, which offers scholarships for journalism students.

A key feature of the show will be the presentation of the dubious Steakout Lifetime "Achievement" Award. It honors a local leader who consistently gives the local and national media "plenty of raw meat" for their stories. Last year's winner, Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, will present this year's award to his long-time traveling buddy, Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. Look for Kilpatrick and Patterson to take the stage in a mock gubernatorial debate.

Tickets can be reserved by calling Bob Giles at (248) 302-2222. The tickets can be paid for at the event with a check or cash.

Too much of a good thing

After three days of speeches on topics like interconnectivity and microcontrollers, SAE members were ready for something completely different -- and General Motors Corp. Vice President Larry Burns didn't disappoint.

As one of the speakers at a banquet Wednesday, he described a train trip through France with GM Chairman Rick Wagoner and a Frenchman who plied them with fantastic champagne. Much to their dismay, the Frenchman tossed a half-filled magnum out the window. "Wee haf so much excellent champagne in France that we can throw some out ze window," he told them.

Another time, in Japan, a fellow traveler offered them excellent sake. But he, too, tossed a half-filled bottle out the window, explaining that there was more than enough good sake in Japan.

On yet another train trip, Wagoner and Burns were describing the merits of American engineers. "So Rick stood up and threw me out the window."

Contributors: Mark Truby, Christine Tierney

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