After Hours

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss

Is the fate of General Motors an indication of the outlook for the United States? John M McKee discusses whether any single leader make that much of a difference anymore.

 The chairman of General Motors has been named as the company's new chief executive officer. Why do you care? Because this will prove to be a watershed moment in the fate of the company that was once the largest in the world. It was the one-time subject of many textbooks on the subjects of organizational structure, leadership, and management; "the General" became a cartoon version of itself over time.  Additionally, in the eyes of some pundits, its fall came to epitomize much of what has happened, directionally, with the power and dominance of the US.

Consequently, for a lot of different reasons that go well beyond executive suites in Detroit, it's worth a minute to noodle about the prospective outcome of this decision.

Questions:

1. Is Chairman and CEO Edward Whitacre, Jr. up to the task?

2. At 68 years old, why would this former boss of AT&T, who had retired a winner, risk his reputation now?

3. Will the success (or failure) of GM forecast the likely near-term direction for the US, which remains by far the world's biggest economy?

Comments:

1. Is he up to the task? Maybe.

Years ago, when I was one of the leaders at DIRECTV, we decided to create some strategic partnerships with companies that were big enough to help us compete against the large cable TV companies. Those organizations didn't like the idea of a satellite company taking "their" subscribers away from them. Consequently, we approached the heads of all the large telephone companies about a deal where they could sell DIRECTV service to their existing telephone customers and take a cut of the action.

One by one I did deals with most of them. But not Ed Whitacre and his team. They moved slowly compared to the others. He was savvy enough to have his team keep the conversation going but seemed reluctant to do a deal unless it was the best possible. Ultimately, we did a contract with his organization (at that time called Southwestern Bell). His company got a fair and good deal. That told me that he was clearly a good deal maker. However, when it came to making the new joint business run effectively -- with his teams selling DIRECTV -- his organization was not very good at all. They rarely achieved their goals.

In sum, he came across as a great deal guy and a strategic thinker. But how his company executed his strategy (in the case of DIRECTV back then) was not as great.

2. Why risk an already successful reputation? I've written a fair number of articles about why people who have retired from successful careers subsequently decide to get back into the workforce. I re-posted one yesterday for this blog. In short, based on public information, Ed Whitacre was successful before and he sees GM as an opportunity to show that his leadership style transcends industries. 3.  Does the success of his tenure at General Motors provide a clue about the future of the US? Late last year I wrote on my personal blog asking if anyone could fix this company and make it great again. In it I provided suggestions I thought would be important for any leader facing a crisis. How this once-dominant organization deals with its survival can be directional for anyone watching how our country deals with the Great Recession and its place within the world.

Old ways won't make the grade in any New World Order. Competitors -- be they other leaders seeking the top job, companies seeking to "destroy" those with whom they fight for dominance, or countries that believe it is their time to take the top place -- are playing by different rules. They are often stronger. Many will have the confidence that they have the moral high ground. Whoever is leading the charge, they'd better be nimble, thoughtful, and capable of giving clear direction to their "troops."

Great leaders can make great change. We need more great leaders today.

Here's to the future!

john

About

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 d...

10 comments
I_Byte
I_Byte

I'll tell you what the problem is with America, GM and every large corporation. They don't give a F*ck about anyone but themselves and the money they can shove into their pie hole. The concept of quality in America centers around how cheap can we make something to clear a profit margin. Hey...the sooner it breaks, the faster we can sell another! Well - as a lifelong GM customer - you have sold me the last POS you are going to sell me. For example - My 2003 Buick Rendevouz has under 50,000 miles and has had the following work: New Front wheel hubs - 4 times at 200.00 each. $4600 Warranty work. Both Front window track holders (plastic) replaced at $600.00 each. 2 Sets of tires (the factory one wore out prematurely due to the hub problems). 2 Sets of Brakes Pads - Again front . 2 New Front Wheel Rotors (brake pads lost their adhesive and subsequently the pad - gouging the wheel. And this past week - Transmission is slipping (and yes it has been GM dealer serviced!) est repair cost $5000.00 My daughters 1998 Toyota Corolla with 170,000 miles - outside of 3 sets of tires and regular oil changes - 1 set of coil packs (200.00). I'll take a competently serviced Toyota with recall from the American manufacture F*ck job any day of the week. Perhaps the Japanese can teach the American/Mexican workforce how to build automobiles.

jmbrasfield
jmbrasfield

Having had to deal with upper level management for many years before retiring, I must say I have little hope for BIG business. Management at these levels cares little for the business or those employed, they DO care about their egos. The processes in place used to decide where a company should go and how best to get there is slowed to a crawl by those egos. When a course is finally chosen, it is to late. I have seen this time and time again. So often that I have lost all hope for the large business environment in this country. Where I do see a ray of light is from the small business community. I have returned to school to gain new skills in the future of 'tech' in the small business community. They are willing to venture into the brave new world in small calculated steps as resources permit and they are ready to do it NOW. They do not need to talk about it for the next two or three years and then put together a committee to discuss, over the next year or two, how to implement that plan and then, of course, another group must get together to work out how to PHASE it into the existing infrastructure, and then ............. You get the idea. The greed and egos of Americas top level managers in all aspects of big business in this country has slowly killed it and maybe that is a good thing. The king is dead, long live the king. I would be very surprised if GM survives as it is today. You cannot build a 'future model' for the company with the old rules, old dog and new tricks. I wish them luck.

TheProfessorDan
TheProfessorDan

People that achieve the kind of things that Ed Whitacre has accomplished are motivated differently than the average person. I imagine that Whitacre sees this as a challenge and to be honest I don't see his reputation as mattering much to him.

CareerCoach
CareerCoach

We're likely to see the changes needed for a successful future. It may just take longer than anyone wants.

wdewey@cityofsalem.net
wdewey@cityofsalem.net

I have a 2001 saturn s series (GM). It has over 170K miles and last month I had to replace the starter on it. It eats a little oil but other than that I haven't had any major repairs. Just so you know, many Japanese cars are assembled in Mexico and Canada so I wouldn't blame the work force for the problems. Management and engineering are more a factor in my opinion. Bill

Bo Tym
Bo Tym

...your driving the $#it outta your vehicle. After the first 1 or 2 times going to that dealership, if you thought things weren't working out, why not try a different dealership? Another thing to consider is if you were replaceing those parts with OEM or jobber gear. Most people go for the quick easy fix, which notmally involves non-OEM equipment, in your case, it sounds like some of these problems may be self inflicted.

I_Byte
I_Byte

Try being a customer outside a population center. Go for a drive outside the 8 lane freeway...you will have a different impression of AT&T

I_Byte
I_Byte

They don't have one in Mexico and it hasn't helped....not one in Canada where the new Camaro is made either. Don't lay it all on the union (yes they helped)- the greedy money whores at the top have contributed their fair share.

bboyd
bboyd

Not a fan at all, but they have a very different corporate work base than GM and the other UAW camps. Personally I feel the pain of a Japanese management style and its consensus building crap.

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