Where's the Urgency?

Last month, General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner asked for a vote of confidence, and a group of dealers began crusading for him with full-page ads of support. Dealers rallying around the head of GM is a bit cheesy, but no more pathetic than GM selling off its body parts to make the rent. Some in Detroit seem certain that salvation lies well within grasp. They think it's just a matter of time and keeping

Last month, General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner asked for a vote of confidence, and a group of dealers began crusading for him with full-page ads of support.

Dealers rallying around the head of GM is a bit cheesy, but no more pathetic than GM selling off its body parts to make the rent.

Some in Detroit seem certain that salvation lies well within grasp. They think it's just a matter of time and keeping those pesky Wall Street bean counters at bay.

Wagoner told the GM board the prospective turnaround is going to take time. That board members shouldn't expect a big change too quickly suggests that, if they did, he may not be their man.

I can see where all their questions about that last $2 billion that went misplaced on his watch were too time and energy consuming to respond to.

I don't blame Wagoner for wanting to clear the air. After all, it's a big company and the places that money can slip away unnoticed are just too hard for any one guy to control. I'm sure he'll watch closer next year. After all, everyone is so touchy about billions these days, a guy can't even breath.

But it's all in the plan. Just stay the course. I'll bet that's what they all decided behind closed doors. And besides, whom else would they choose to lead the brigade?

And at what price? Imagine the field day the press would have with the signing bonus the auto maker would have to give to anyone with talent to stand in front of that firing line? No one on the board would want that much aggravation.

I'm happy that we got the vote of confidence thing cleared up. Now we don't have to worry about dramatic steps being taken with anxious urgency. Stay the course. Cut costs, streamline organizational charts, carve up a few suppliers, voila.

What else do you expect? The solution is outside their grip, their reference points and their current talent pool. To achieve real change, people “on high” must make major sacrifices. Major!

Perhaps some of the most radical changes will be the elimination of some people “on high.” We're not talking selling a few shares short or foregoing a few hundred thou of compensation here. We're talking personal risk. We're talking personal skin in the game. I know, I know, I go too far. After all, there's supposed to be some reality in this article.

And therein lies the inherent flaw in the system. It is rarely seen outside of passion plays and movies that someone steps aside to make way for salvation.

The outer boundary of most anyone's strategy is self-preservation. This is the tragic flaw in the public markets. Public companies grow rich on public money. They promise returns, then set out to make good on those promises by betting on thoroughbreds to win the race for them.

But pedigreed executives command win, lose or draw compensation with golden handcuffs and golden parachutes. When things go sideways, it's hard to keep straight whose interests are being protected and by whom?

Anyone who thinks it's different please write to me. I've caught a glimpse of enlightened self-interest, but I've not seen selfless sacrifice on the domestic battlefront yet.

I'm practical and I expect most everyone else is, too. So when I hear that an auto company that losing a lot of cash, market share and prestige is holding high-level meetings to talk about anything other than immediate and dramatic changes, I figure it's time to go take a nap because there isn't anything moving too fast on the horizon.

No one has asked me what I'm confident about, but if they did it would go something like this: If you like what's going on around you right now, you're going to love 2006.

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

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