Friday, May 08, 2009

Was Bob Nardelli Ever Any Good?

Doug Kass wondered aloud in these pages last week about why anyone would care about what Bob Nardelli thinks, after he went on CNBC to debrief us on the Chrysler bankruptcy.

After this poor outcome, on the back of his disastrous six-year run at Home Depot (HD), it's fair to ask the question: Was Bob Nardelli ever a good manager?

Is it the case that he landed in two situations where the odds were stacked against him and anyone would have failed, or is he responsible for those two poor outcomes? If he was responsible, why was he so highly regarded coming out of General Electric (GE)? Was that high regard misplaced?

Although Chrysler dealt Nardelli a tough hand due to its size and market position, Alan Mulalley -- another outsider to the industry like Nardelli -- appears to be steering Ford (F) effectively through it.

Nardelli presided over Home Depot during the biggest housing market boom of the last century, yet it dramatically underperformed against Lowe's (LOW) over that period.

Favoritism no doubt played a role in Nardelli getting the Home Depot top job in the first place -- as Ken Langone (Home Depot cofounder and chair at the time) was also on the GE board and was very close to Jack Welch. They offered him this consolation prize days after he was passed over for Immelt. But what got Nardelli near the top rung of the ladder at GE in the first place?

Was Nardelli any good at GE and did he simply go into industries (retail and autos) in which lacked the experience to be successful, or was Jack Welch a poor judge of talent in letting him rise as far as he did at GE?

Nardelli's stumbles obviously hurt his own career prospects, but they also mar the reputations of Langone and Welch, as well as the mystique of GE's leadership funnel.

Position: None.

Originally published in on 5/5/2009 9:49 AM EDT

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