There are a million reasons to become angry about what's going on in the car business, and that's just considering recent news. If I looked further, I could really get mad.
I'm confused over how the top brass of domestic auto makers hoodwinked American unions into concessions that, at least in part, are showing up as multi-million dollar executive bonuses.
Ford alone reportedly paid over $60 million in 2007 year-end bonuses to their executives. More worrisome is how some Wall Streeters explain, straight-faced, that those incentive bonuses are “better than high salaries.”
What? Somewhere along the line, the well-being of stockholders, employees and dealers has fallen in priority well below that of investment bankers, consultants, and hired-gun executives.
I'm steamed that Toyota showed a new level of arrogance when it failed to correct misunderstandings in a Congressional hearing about possible Japanese subsidies used to reduce the cost of American-sold Toyotas. (Can you spell “antitrust”?)
Is it just a coincidence that those testifying remember the “real facts” when on another company's payroll?
Never before in over 35 years of automotive retail have I felt so marginalized and misdirected by back-room deals.
The latest example, express mailed right to my desk, was notice of General Motors' “out-of-court” settlement with Reynolds and Reynolds.
Approximately 400 of us dealers signed on for GM's integrated dealer-management system with Reynolds — an arrangement now dead.
GM and Reynolds huddled to figure out how they could back out of the technology services contract that locked dealers in just a couple years ago.
Now that times are tougher, they don't want to live up to that agreement. We have less than a year to make other arrangements. Meanwhile, a GM person responding to my complaints, says, there's always arbitration.
Likely, the only thoughts about dealers were those of a few attorneys riveted on calculating how little it might take to kill their agreement without winding up in court.
I wonder if executives lost as much money on the reshuffle of those agreements as they're asking dealers like me to lose?
America is in a deep recession. Dealers and their staff are losing dealerships, homes, jobs and futures.
Many good, hard-working car people are barely scraping enough together to get by. It plain stinks how many franchise executives and managers are blithely stepping over them to feather their personal nests instead of grinding out a profit for their stakeholders.
I've come to replace my condemnation that losing brands are just the result of poor product quality, with a newfound suspicion that brand failures are often just the result of sins by trusted advisors.
We've been sold out by the notion that everything can be fixed by more, fewer or different dealers — and that Wall Street deals with golden executive parachutes are good for public companies.
Journalists recently have spotlighted the kinds of individual greed and guiding business philosophies that if it's legal, it doesn't have to be ethical.
That can lead to a culture of “what's in it for me” so deeply rooted that it's become to impossible to get people to focus on legitimate stakeholder's rights without associating them with a lobster dinner or day at a prestigious golf club.
Where are we if getting people to do their jobs too often requires bribes or threats?
An honest day's pay seems to some like a sucker bet, given the intrigue of stock incentives, out of court settlements, signing bonuses, back room deals, stolen secrets, golden parachutes and bribery.
With more and more big businesses being run by absentee owners, uninvested managers and detached boards of directors — all of whom have more of a stake in selling the company than in improving its products — it's no wonder our future is so uncertain.
Peter Brandow is a veteran dealer in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
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