How to measure Keith Crain’s standing in the auto industry?
Well, over the past four decades virtually every car company CEO in the world has made it a priority to know the head man at Automotive News — and to stay in touch. It’s how you punch your ticket at the industry’s highest levels.
His weekly column is essential reading. His appearance at an auto show attracts a crowd. His opinions are much in demand.
Still, Crain, 73, did not build his reputation by pontificating. He did it by traveling the world and by asking thousands of questions. He has never ceased to be, above all, an endlessly curious reporter.
Crain moved to Detroit in 1971 to become publisher and editorial director of Automotive News when the paper was acquired by his family’s company, Crain Communications Inc. He is now chairman of the company and editor-in-chief of Automotive News.
Over the decades, he has grilled hundreds of senior executives and broken some of the biggest stories in the history of the car business. He also has served as one of the industry’s toughest critics — as well as one of its strongest supporters.
His achievements range from breaking the news of Lee Iacocca’s firing by Henry Ford II in 1978 to a pivotal role in creating the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in 1989.
And he continues to operate at the nerve center of the industry. His one-on-one interview with outgoing General Motors CEO Dan Akerson at the Automotive News World Congress in January was highly praised and widely covered.
Akerson and other CEOs who came from outside the car business — including Alan Mulally and Bob Nardelli — quickly figured out that spending quality time with Crain was essential.
Over the years, his friends have included everyone from Iacocca and Henry Ford II (with whom he once shared a duck blind as a young publisher) to Ralph Nader and Jesse Jackson.
Still, he’s never backed away from criticizing an industry leader, though he is always willing to sit down and hash out differences of opinion — often over long, loquacious dinners.
Crain began attending auto shows big and small in the early 1970s. He went to every auto-producing corner of the world to talk to executives, visit their plants and drive their cars. He eagerly toured r&d centers and design studios.
And he is just as quick to engage a welder on an assembly line or a junior designer or an F&I manager as he is a CEO. He treats them all the same — always able to talk their language, josh with them and pose the questions they weren’t expecting. In that way, he serves the readers of Automotive News.
Crain took what he learned on the road and put it to good use. He set up news bureaus in Europe and Japan and launched Automotive News Europe in 1996.
After walking the floor at dozens of international auto shows he helped transform the regional Detroit auto show into an international extravaganza.
He befriended designers from Italy to Korea and brought their insights to the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, where he has been chairman of the board for more than 20 years.
He remains a leading light in the industry. His influence is far-reaching. But at heart Crain has never ceased to be a news gatherer, the living embodiment of his publication.
Source: Automotive News