Insiders at new GM same as they ever were
Outsiders? They don't need no stinkin' outsiders to run the
post-bankruptcy General Motors Co. -- at least not on the management
team detailed Thursday.
The government-appointed board of directors is something else
altogether, long as it is on outsiders from Wall Street, the telecom
business and academia and short on anything approaching automotive
experience. Welcome to one of the more salient untenables in the federal
government's bailout-cum-bankruptcy of new GM:
President Barack Obama's auto task force, big-money investors and
industry wags convinced GM management still is just another name for The
Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight want fresh blood to change the way the
new GM operates. But the feds' pay-and-bonus restrictions essentially
make it impossible for CEO Fritz Henderson to woo outside talent for
How do you square that circle? You don't, at least not directly and
certainly not now. You promote. How many of the hedge fund sharpies who
command billions in investment capital and sit around tables demanding
that GM get new, outside management would themselves willingly decamp
their current digs for a new assignment paying a smaller base salary and
a bonus limited by the Treasury Department?
Probably none of them, and they'd ridicule anyone who did. Which is why
GM's 50- and 60-something new retirees are being replaced -- to a person
-- by 40- and 50-something GM insiders ready (or not) to move up the
corporate ladder. Like so many other companies in this recession-scarred
economy, GM has the talent it has and it's not likely to get more soon.
To read the announcement of GM's new nine-person executive committee,
the promotions and the retirements, as I did minutes after it was made
public, is to hear the faint strains of Talking Heads singing "same as
it ever was, same as it ever was" and to hear more wailing about the
chronically clueless GM.
To read it also is to be reminded of how completely swamped the
accomplishments of some are by the indiscriminate discrediting force of
bankruptcy. Does it matter that the long, slow repair of GM's labor
relations, the effective globalization of its manufacturing and improved
assembly quality was led by Gary Cowger, 62, retiring at the end of the
It should, but I wouldn't bet on him getting much credit for it -- not
now, anyway. Or that Maureen Kempston-Darkes, 60, managed GM's Latin
American operations at a critical time and delivered results that
otherwise would have made financials worse for GM back home.
Or that Michael Grimaldi, 57, successfully launched critical versions of
GM's full-size pickups and SUVs when it really mattered, leveraging that
success into the presidency of GM-Canada and then the crucial job as
president of GM-Daewoo in South Korea -- a global cornerstone of the new GM.
To read these names is to be reminded, too, of the monumental challenges
and slim margin for error facing those who remain. There's Henderson and
CFO Ray Young. Bob Lutz, the eminence grise again wooed from retirement
to work miracles with marketing and PR. Tom Stephens, the engineer's
engineer who'll be considered a failure if GM launches any duds. And
Mark LaNeve, the marketing guy who defied predictions of his demise and
now must get more skeptical American butts into GM seats.
It's a cliché, but there truly are no more excuses for the new GM --
aside from the very real drag of meddlesome politicians determined to
use the government's stake to bend the automaker's products to their will.
Beyond that, GM and its homers can't blame the United Auto Workers, or
draconian bondholders, or "dumb" American consumers, or the "bean
counters" who "force them" to compromise the development of
segment-leading new cars and trucks.
When GM emerged from its blast through bankruptcy, Henderson declared
that there are no third chances. He's right, and the final shot is under