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When GM's CEO Says 'Progress' He Means 'Panic'

Illustration for article titled When GMs CEO Says Progress He Means Panic

It's as predictable as snow during the Detroit Auto Show or flight delays from summer thunderstorms. As soon as a company runs into a crisis, the CEO heads for the op-ed page.

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That's what GM's Dan Akerson did this morning in the Detroit Free Press. His op-ed, "Don't Let The Critics Overshadow General Motors' Progress" is straight out of CEO PR 101. It is meant to rally the troops and lays out GM's view of how it thinks it's doing. (Rick Wagoner did it, too. You can see how they compare in my piece for Forbes.)

But we know what Akerson really wants to say isn't in the Freep. So, here's a helpful translation.

General Motors is one of the most closely scrutinized companies on the planet, a lesson I've learned the hard way in my two years as CEO. (I can't blame anyone for wondering if the lesson has really sunk in.)

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Translation: Holy Mother of God, we've turned into a freaking football. Nobody at Treasury told me this would happen.

That scrutiny spiked this month as certain changes we've made - planned and unplanned - have sparked a lot of debate in a town that likes nothing more than talking cars and the people who make them.

Translation: Firing Joel Ewanick really sent the haters into a tizzy. And I thought he was the one with haters.

Because we are so intensely watched - because of the passion around our company - change at GM plays itself out in public far more than at other companies. That allows those on the outside looking in to speculate, sometimes wildly, about GM in a way that bears little resemblance to the company I know.

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Translation: Taking that federal bailout made us into the Brangelina of the car business. Those bastards come at us from every direction. Mitt Romney and auto pundits, I'm talking to you.

It obscures the real progress our team has made to position GM for the future.

Translation: I know this is b.s., but I have to say this before I get to the stuff that could sink us.

Europe remains a major challenge for us and just about every other automaker. We are in the midst of perhaps our most comprehensive and aggressive program yet to return our operations there to sustained profitability.

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Translation: Do you have an idea I could try at Opel? 'Cause we have a conference room full of balled up sheets of white tear-off paper.

None of this work is easy. All of it requires change, which is necessary to ensure GM's success today, tomorrow and for decades to come. Fortunately, our employees understand and accept the changes we still need to make.

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Translation: See what I said about "real progress."

I believe our culture is our "secret weapon" and is on the way to being a true difference maker for us.

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Translation: When I say culture, I mean the one where you do what I tell you to do. Not the one where you answer, "Well, I've been here 15 years and we always have..."

While it may look a little messy from the outside, the men and women of GM understand what Teddy Roosevelt knew about the man in the arena: "It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better."

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Translation: Messy has two fewer letters than chaotic.

The employees of GM believe again, and we're hungry to win.

Translation: But if we don't, we know where to go to get help.

Photo: Getty Images

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DISCUSSION

TheScraper
TheScraper

Funny, it is the 'culture' that destroyed GM...and NOTHING has changed from pre-bailout. That is why the bailout made no sense...you were not really changing anything other than the feds leering over your shoulder and the UAW emboldened.

Remember, GM did go through a BANKRUPTCY...only it was managed and funded by the taxpayer. They should have gone through a proper bankruptcy and brought in some real management that would have cleaned slate from the 'culture' that you seem to value. A culture that nickels an dimes every design choice until your volume cars are nothing but mediocre and also-rans. I've always held the belief that most GM cars are about 80% thought out, that the detail or finess is just somehow missing, and the rest is almost as cheap feeling and looking as you can get.

You then bring in mavericks to help get rid of the bad image, they go on being mavericks, and you dump them like a bag of moldy tangerines for being mavericks. Meanwhile, all the worthless middle management gets to keep their fifedoms and ineffeiciencies because they are part of the 'culture'.

You could have really reduced the albatross that is the UAW and their 'culture' of hostility and activism with a traditional bankruptcy (and don't give me that BS that only the government could help them, because that just is not true...nobody had a chance to step in, and GM could have self-financed). A culture that, while they are YOUR employees, do not answer to you, you cannot fire, hate the management that are asking them to do thier jobs, work against the company's (and their own) best interest, and sometimes intentionally sabotage equipment to get the first day of hunting season off...all while high and drunk from lunchtime binges. You pay their salary, their healthcare, and their pension...when they really work for the Union.

And then there is the 'culture' of bloat. Much of that was done away with from the New-GM/Old-GM split. But much of what you cut was damaging...like getting rid of so many dealers, epecially in rural areas. People won't shop your cars if they have to drive an hour to get there. And you did get rid of many antiquated assembly plants for more efficient lines. It is about damned time! But, because of the Unions, you couldn't have gotten rid of them 20 years ago when it would have counted. That day will come again. But the white-collar bloat is still there...in middle management. Even with the revolving door, there are still far too many ineffectual people there.

Remember, a 'culture' can be good...like in cheese or beer. But a 'culture' can also be bad...like with gonorrhea.