I Blame the Middle Managers

Chrysler's new owners are trying to deal straight up with the reality of market forces, rather than give in to historical excuses about what went wrong. From all appearances the people at Cerberus stand ready to shed themselves of products, dealers, plants, unions and middle staff, if it might mean a quicker or better profit. From a dealer's perspective, the two most important things that might correct

Chrysler's new owners are trying to deal straight up with the reality of market forces, rather than give in to historical excuses about what went wrong.

From all appearances the people at Cerberus stand ready to shed themselves of products, dealers, plants, unions and middle staff, if it might mean a quicker or better profit.

From a dealer's perspective, the two most important things that might correct our domestic challenges are “right pricing” current inventories, and “right staffing” the factory people with whom we must deal.

Right pricing of inventory means auto makers accept what the market offers. Sadly, most of them wait until their retailers run out of money and lot space before reducing prices. This is old news.

But what's seldom discussed is the consequence of selfish corporate middle managers. For reasons political and emotional, middle managers, whose work ethics and relationship skills stink, are rarely talked about aloud.

Dealers fear speaking about zone personnel will cost them audits and allocations of hot product, and factory folks don't blow the whistle because they worry that their careers will be sabotaged.

We all know who are the lazy and mean spirited bureaucrats. They often have been laterally demoted, yet stick around with disdain.

The worst of them are the ones who name drop and use their home-office connections to keep from a full measure of accountability.

Replacing these ineffective and uninspired middle managers would profoundly help vehicle sales.

I've witnessed, first hand, lost sales from an inability to get one of these folks on the phone for an important matter.

I've watched opportunities die while these folks frittered away time, hoping that they wouldn't have to make a decision.

When there is hard work to be done, these people always seem to be “in a meeting” or “on a personal day” or offering some other excuse that loosely translates to “not interested.”

It matters little to them whether a customer is soured, a vehicle goes unsold or the motivation of a good teammate is squashed. Whether it violates the company's best interest or the dealer's, these folks are absent.

An example of this was painfully evident when I recently sold my last Chrysler store.

For the months preceding the sale, no one at the zone office wanted to get busy selling cars. It cost hundreds of new-car sales. It meant career salesmen didn't go home with commissions. It meant many customers bought other brands.

Of course, the middle managers only saw that I lost money. Their endless series of vacation and personal days replaced any serious sales effort.

The interests of the factory were ignored, the interests of my dealership were ignored and the public was absent from the equation.

I remember when an import-dealer friend told me he had to cut lunch short to make it back to the dealership to meet with his area marketing manager.

I asked why the rush and he said, “Because he always shows up with something good.”

It took me a moment to realize he wasn't kidding. A visit from my zone manager usually signaled an undersold program or some dog inventory he needed help with.

He usually arrived with my rep in tow and a sour face. My rep always stayed after the meeting to apologize for appearing like he shared his manager's views. The manager's best meetings were those he cancelled.

I wish so many ineffectual middle managers weren't in pivotal positions in the auto industry.

I wish satisfaction scores were expanded to reflect dealer and co-worker dissatisfaction with factory contacts.

As the flaws of under-performing domestic franchises are exposed, we are likely to find that their greatest failure lay not with the labor that built the vehicles or the dealers who struggled to sell them, but with managers who mucked it up.

Peter Brandow is a veteran dealer in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

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