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John Krafcik (Hyundai)
John Krafcik (Hyundai)

Driving It Home

Hyundai losing a smart, blunt leader Add to ...

John Krafcik is leaving his position as head of Hyundai Motor America on January 1. But he’ll land somewhere. He’s too savvy, too energetic, and too charismatic to remain on the shelf for long. If you are running a car company, hire him.

Karfcik, with a master’s degree from MIT and a background in product development, is a highly competitive straight talker with a social conscience. A capitalist with a heart. As CEO of Hyundai’s North American business, he’s been a major force for change over these last five years.

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In a shockingly blunt 2009 speech, Krafcik had the courage to suggest that the auto industry has an image problem and offered a long list of ways to fix it.

“Let’s face it – our reputation as an industry is horrible,” he said in an address to the Chicago auto show. “In the U.S.,” he said, “we are viewed for the most part as a slow, dim-witted industry that is typically unresponsive to consumer and environmental needs.” Auto company “executives are criticized for lavish compensation, abundant perks and unnecessary entitlements.”

He lamented an industry more interested in “moving the iron than consistently delighting our customers.” As he put it, “Getting a cavity filled shouldn’t be more palatable than setting foot in a car dealership.”

He was critical of his industry for often opposing environmental and safety legislation. And he suggested it’s a mistake for the car business to damage “brand reputations by resorting to costly discounts, rebates, and desperate sales tactics to keep our plants running and to cover our fixed costs.”

Yes, that’s a car company CEO offering a blunt diagnosis of what has ailed his industry. Up next, his 2009 prescription for healing the car business and where reforms stand in 2013. You’ll be surprised.

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