Roy S. Roberts

Roy Roberts Photo

Roy S. Roberts is a businessman and philanthropist who became the highest-ranking African American executive in the history of the global auto industry. Roberts served as Group Vice President for North American Vehicle Sales, Service and Marketing at General Motors Corporation from October 1998 to April 2000, the pinnacle of his 24-year career with GM.

Roberts held other positions of strategic and historic importance at General Motors. During the 1990s, a highly productive decade in his career, he served as Vice President and General Manager in charge of Field Sales, Service and Parts from August 1998 to October 1998; General Manager of the Pontiac-GMC Division from February 1996 to October 1998, during which he led planning and oversight of the merger of Pontiac and GMC; and was General Manager of the GMC Truck Division from October 1992 to February 1996.  Roberts also was Manufacturing Manager of GM’s Cadillac Motor Car Division from 1990 to 1992.

He joined General Motors in 1977 as a salaried employee-in-training at GM’s former Diesel Equipment Division in Grand Rapids, Michigan. In 1983, he became the first African American plant manager of GM’s assembly facility in North Tarrytown, New York. Roberts served as vice president and corporate officer in charge of Personnel Administration and Development at GM, from 1987 to 1988 – a position that made him only the second African American vice president in the corporation’s history. Roberts left GM to become vice president for truck operations and chief operating officer at Navistar International Corporation (1988-90), but was recruited back to lead Cadillac manufacturing.

Before joining General Motors, Roberts spent 17 years with the Aerospace division at Lear-Siegler Corporation, serving in a variety of positions ranging from engineering to manufacturing to labor relations. After retiring from GM, Roberts served as managing director and co-founding member of Reliant Equity Investors, a private equity investment firm. He was appointed Emergency Manager of Detroit Public Schools by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, serving from 2011 to 2013.

Roberts earned a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and completed graduate work at WMU and Detroit’s Wayne State University. He completed the Executive Development Program at Harvard Graduate School of Business, and the General Motors Advanced International General Management Program in Switzerland. He also has been awarded honorary doctorates from Michigan State, Florida A & M, Grand Valley State and Central Michigan universities.

Roberts is trustee emeritus at WMU and has served on numerous corporate boards, including Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corporation, Abbott Laboratories, and Enova Systems Corporation. He served as president and president of the national board of the Boy Scouts of America, president of the Grand Rapids NAACP, and has been a board member of the Morehouse School of Medicine, the United Negro College Fund, The Aspen Institute and the National Urban League, where he chaired national conventions in San Diego and Atlanta.

Roberts and his wife Maureen donated $1.1 million to the Detroit Institute of Arts in 2011 to create the Maureen and Roy S. Roberts Gallery of Contemporary African American Art. Roberts was presented the American Success Award in 1989 by President George H.W. Bush in the Rose Garden at the White House. He was named 1996 Executive of the Year by Black Enterprise magazine and was awarded the Automotive Hall of Fame’s Distinguished Service Citation in 1998. Among his many other honors, Roberts received a 2014 Legacy in Motion Lifetime Achievement award from the Michigan Chroniclenewspaper.