Danny Howes Attacks Michigan Governor's Husband For Telling The Truth About Toyota

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Fair warning here — if you're not into the industry navel-gazing, you'll probably just want to run along to another post — because this one'll be a doozy. I digitally opened up the Detroit papers this morning, ready to sink into some meaty auto industry news when I ran into something both strange and bizarre. It was none other than the pundit of automotive pontification for The Detroit News, Danny Howes. Now normally I enjoy reading Danny playing the conservative role for the adoring anglo-saxon fan base of the the metro region's conservadoxic paper, if only that it gives me a good chuckle. But today the role-playing D-town automaker lap-dog was going after another Dan — Dan Mulhern — husband to Michigan Governor Granholm, with a level of vim and vigor I haven't seen since I got my puppy his first beef-flavored chew-toy back in high school. Apparently Dan (to distinguish between the two, I'll be calling Mr. Mulhern, "Dan," and I'll be using "Danny" for the guy from the Detroit News), in his most recent weekly leadership e-mail from the Office of the First Gentleman, made the following commentary:


Because I am married to the great governor of Michigan, I have had the chance to be a fly on the wall (generally a quiet and unobtrusive one) during meetings with executives from Toyota. These Toyota execs are like those I have gotten to know from Fortune magazine's "100 Best Companies to Work For," in that they get totally fired up when they start talking about the culture in their companies. The Toyota folks and the great company folks know that "culture beats strategy" every time. They have strategies to achieve results. But they know and constantly verbalize that the only way you get results is through people. For these folks it's not just that people are the necessary means, but that people are ends in themselves. It's not just that the employees are there for the company's success, but at some really deep level, they believe the company is there for the employees' success. So they pay attention to people. They have a "what" of results they're pursuing, but they pay primary attention to the who and to the how.


OK, now I'm no Toyota-lover — I think everyone knows that — but I don't think Dan's said anything that's not true. Let's take a closer look...yes, Toyota loves talking about their corporate culture (think, "The Toyota Way"). Yes, Toyota folks think "culture beats strategy." Yes, they believe "strategies achieve results." And yes, they "pay attention to people" who work there. All of these things are accurate statements. Yet when you hear Danny go off on Dan, you'd think he just claimed Ford, GM and whatever is left of Chrysler should be burned at the stake — Danny even wonders whether Dan's "even thinking at all?" But of course that's after he cuts down the headline of the e-mail from "The Way of Toyota, Great Companies and Mary Zatina" to "The Way of Toyota, Great"...but mostly Danny's critique centers around the argument

"...do we need the first gentleman, husband of the governor who ostensibly will "go anywhere and do anything" to create jobs, opining right now on the blockbuster leadership techniques of the foreign archrival kicking Detroit's collective behind?"


Apparently what Danny wants is for business leaders, politicians and anyone with a stake to put on their happy face and just pretend the problems aren't out there. I don't happen to think that's the best option, and it sounds to me like Dan's just a decision-maker accepting the reality of the situation by telling it like it is. And as Danny well knows, "acceptance is a precursor to action, which means a) telling the truth about your predicament and then b) becoming even more unpopular..." How do I know Danny knows that? It's because he wrote those very same words back in June of 2005 while explaining why the US automakers need to not ignore long-term problems in favor of short-term results. It sounds to me like Danny's wanting Dan to ignore just that. Oh and Danny should probably stop tossing around that "coastal-elitist" epithet at Dan Mulhern — it's unseemly coming from an out-of-stater graduate of Columbia to use that particular term to reference someone born and raised here in Michigan.

Say what? Gov's hubby gushes over Toyota's way [Detroit News]

Dan Howes: "Top GOP Leaders To Big Three: Drop Dead" [internal]

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You noted, "Apparently what Danny wants is for business leaders, politicians and anyone with a stake to put on their happy face and just pretend the problems aren't out there."

I, too, have some issues with much of the column, but your statement is at odds with what Danny actually wrote. He certainly doesn't want to pretend the problems don't exist; he notes "there are scores of analysts, academics, journalists and average-joe consumers variously equipped to trash Detroit with impunity and exalt the virtues of all things Toyota."

I agree with his concern that the spouse of the governor in a state should not spend his time dumping on a local industry that's critical to that state's economy when so many other people are already dumping on it. I'm vaguely reminded of Bugs Bunny and "Dogpile on the wabbit!" And it certainly doesn't put the governor in a good light in view of the looming unemployment issues, and praising Toyota isn't going to bring any more jobs to the state.

That being said, I am a little less comfortable with some of the things you did point out—the misstatement of the email title, his 'coastal elitism', etc. I suspect that, at the time, his column seemed like a good idea, but it seems like it must have veered from the original intent.