In a column in the June 30 issue of Forbes Magazine, auto industry guru Jerry Flint observed that the US auto industry is so shaky that a total collapse is now a very real possibility.
He noted parallels to the British auto industry, where once-profitable companies went down or were acquired by overseas organizations. The result, he said, was that although cars are still being assembled in Britain, all the good paying jobs and important management roles go to those from other countries. Only the low-paying work is given to the "locals."
The Brits, he said, have been relegated to the role of water boys. And the same is likely here. His concerns seem to be reinforced by a July 1 report on combined auto sales in CNN/Money. That report indicated June was perhaps the worst sales month since tracking began years ago.
What's more, General Motors, once the world's biggest producer of cars with over a dozen car brands, is now valued at about $6B while Honda, with only two brands, is now worth over $11B.
As someone who's been around nearly as long as Mr. Flint, I fully understand his concern. I have watched while many industries and head offices left for other cities, then to other states (or provinces in Canada) in the quest for greater efficiency. Consequently, communities that were once vibrant became shadows of themselves. Unemployment usually rose. Although most folks hate to see others hurt like this, such change was generally regarded as a cost of competition. In many cases, these "local" changes didn't affect people elsewhere in the US either.
(About unemployment: There is a commonly held belief among social scientists that says, "Unemployment numbers are irrelevant - you're either 100% employed or 100% unemployed. If you're still employed, you feel no pain and so are unlikely to change much of what you are doing.")
But now, more than ever, US citizens are starting to feel the pain nationwide - across all incomes and professions:
- the US economy has 3.2m fewer jobs today than when George W. Bush became
- in the last 3 years, nearly 1 in 5 workers has been laid off.
- 15 million people are unemployed, underemployed, or have given up looking for work.
The outlook is tough. The rise of middle class roles and the personal aspirations of those in India, China, South America and East Europe will continue to make it harder for the U.S. to compete. Can anything be done to stop this quickly developing trend, or is this just the beginning of a time when many managers get dehired permanently?
Stopping this trend requires that U.S. managers - and this applies to those in other western countries as well - wake up and smell the coffee. They need to realize and accept that what is occurring is not temporary activity that will cease on its own. And then managers must take the action needed to ensure that they - and their organizations - are around for the long haul. As the speed of change increases, so too does the need for great management clarity and leadership skills.
Here's what you need to do:
1. Upgrade yourself - no one wants to pay for someone who can't do what's needed today and tomorrow. Make sure "the kids" know this too.
2. Become more involved - learn how your industry is being affected by global events.
3. Recognize that even the strongest trends can be changed by committed individuals.
4. Perform at the top of your game - no one will continue to pay more for less than is available elsewhere.
5. Make a plan - if you don't have a personal action plan, how do you know if you're doing everything possible to ensure you have a better life?
6. Get angry - whiners don't survive, they just make it more aggravating for the winners.
7. Don't look to the government to fix it - competition is a global game now. It can't be stopped because we decide we want to take our football and go home. We'll just be on the sidelines watching the action.
8. Watch for new opportunities - don't wait for someone else (like your boss) to look after you. Use some of the great entrepreneurial stuff that makes capitalism great and get into a new line.
Or, order Adam Sandler's movie The Waterboy and sit back and wait.
John M. McKee is the founder and CEO of BusinessSuccessCoach.net, an international consulting and coaching practice with subscribers in 43 countries. One of the founding senior executives of DIRECTV, his hands-on experience includes leading billion dollar organizations and launching start-ups in both the U.S. and Canada. The author of two published books, he is frequently seen providing advice on TV, in magazines, and newspapers.