I pointed the other day to Bob Sutton’s excellent reflection on GM. Bob Massie, who was a classmate of mine at Princeton and someone who had the courage and energy to take our student-days’ struggle against apartheid into his adult life, just posted a comment that echoes Sutton’s thoughts, and goes further to speculate what the one-time power of American manufacturing might have been able to do:
I also dealt with GM many times at a high level when I was the executive director of Ceres. I found that there was deep schizophrenia in the company – when asked about some international issues they showed some foresight, but when asked about anything going on the US, they exhibited all the traits of arrogance and absurdity that were described.
Whenever I think of what it means for a corporation to have a “culture,” in fact, I think of GM because it was absolutely pervasive – the way problems were discussed, the “Can’t Do” mentality (which I used to call “American No-How”) – the absurdity of appointing Bob Lutz, the sadly aging super-macho, MiG flying, 1950s muscle car guy to a company that needed churn out 21st century cars (and who blocked hybrids for years, still intimidates everyone around him, and continues to affirm that climate change is “crap”). What would it take to get you fired in this company? Apparently you could run naked down the hall lighting fire to the furniture and to shareholder value, but as long as you maintained the self-delusional speeches, you would be backed up.
Think of what this company could have done if it had 1)learned from the 1970s experience with Japan 2) fought for national health insurance for the last 20 years thus lowering the unit cost of production per car 3) recognized the science of climate change at the time of McKibben or Gore’s books 4) put real advocates for change on its board 5) given the hydrogen fuel cell car as much support as the Hummer division 6) pushed for infrastructure changes under Clinton and Bush or fired Lutz and Wagoner years ago.
They made every possible mistake, lost $72 billion in the last few years and 90% of shareholder value in the last few months and who do they blame? The workers. Enough is enough. Break up the company, fire the top brass, and bail them out with new leadership and partial government ownership committed to reversing their grotesque years of missed opportunity and outright failure.