This kind of leadership doesn't come along often.
Over time, to some both inside and outside GM, Whitacre sometimes seemed lost -- or worse, without much to do -- as he wandered the corridors of a company that still employs over 200,000 people worldwide, equivalent to about 10 Googles. At one point, he showed up unannounced at GM's vehicle development center in Warren and ate lunch in the cafeteria "by himself to see who shows up," Girsky recalled. The rest of the afternoon he just drifted from meeting to meeting, listening in without a particular plan to the engineers as they worked. "He said, 'Did you know it takes nine people to validate a wheel?'" Girsky said in June. "'I had no idea.'"