With 37 years at GM, Tadge Juechter offers a long-view perspective on the auto industry.
October 2, 2015|by Jonathan Xavier
Corvette chief engineer Tadge Juechter never intended to work for General Motors. A teenage summer job on the assembly line had soured him on auto manufacturing, and Juechter said he couldn’t see himself at a big company where he was just another cog in the machine.
Yet when a college friend asked Juechter to accompany him to an interview there, he went along and interviewed himself, mostly on a lark. To his surprise, he got the job.
That was 37 years ago.
Since then, Juechter (MBA, ’86) has climbed his way up the ladder at GM, spending the past 20 years working on its flagship sports car, Corvette. In 2006, he became just the fifth chief engineer in the storied automobile’s 62-year history. In that role, he has final authority on the direction of one of the world’s most iconic car brands, and was the driving force behind 2014’s lap-time–obliterating Stingray C7, for which he was named Automobile Magazine’s Man of the Year.
Even with all the accolades, Juechter hasn’t been able to entirely escape the manufacturing work he dreaded in his youth. Like all engineers at Corvette, he spends at least one day a year at the company’s plant in Kentucky, working on the assembly line. With the benefit of experience, Juechter says he now finds it informative.
“When you’re sitting in an engineering office, and you see this great black finish on a part, it’s like, ‘Oh, let’s make it all black — it will match!’” he says. “Well, you get down to the plant and the light’s not that great and maybe you’re pushing 60 and you need reading glasses, and now you’re trying to find this black hole on a black part to put in a black fastener, and suddenly you realize you’ve made a mistake.
“Every detail is important, even down to the color of the parts.”
Juechter describes his tinkering passion, Detroit’s hubris, and self-driving cars in this interview with Stanford Business, edited for length and clarity.