In the early forties, when I was in about the second grade, World War II raged some place overseas. The topics for discussion at lunch among my peers were things like: which were the stronger enemy, the Japs or the Nazis; which tractor had the most power (I was a county kid) International Harvester or John Deere; which cowboy could draw the fastest, Roy Rogers or Gene Autry; which car company was the best (even though car production had given way to tank, etc. production) Ford or General Motors. Most of my classmates were of German descent, so most of us thought that the Germans were stronger. I liked green better than red, so I always voted for John Deere when it came to farm equipment. My favorite song was “I’m Back in the Saddle Again,” so Gene was my choice. Even though Henry Ford seemed like a nice old man, General Motors was the largest company in the world. It employed more people than any other car company. According to my seven year old logic, it had to be the best. How the mighty have fallen!
In the beginning of the film “My Favorite Year”, in voice over, the lead character says about the 1950’s grill on the Buick in the shot, “That’s when a Buick was a Buick.” That is when the exteriors of all American cars could be distinguished by their grills, tail lights, fins, length, colors or weight. They were driving machines. In a little more than a decade, those machines began to disappear, along with union wages and factory expansion. The CEO’s of all heavy industry, complacent, arrogant and myopic failed to take seriously the smaller, better engineered cars coming out of our once enemy, Japan. When the American public slowly began to choose practical, more economical cars over the behemoths that Detroit produced, car CEO’s blamed demanding unions for faltering dividends and American factory closings. Big American companies became international companies. The power of leadership was divided by big company boards so that no one individual could be blamed for any economic failure. How the mighty have fallen!
In 2008, General Motors, once the biggest company in the world, once the shining example to a seven year old farm girl, took a loan from the Federal Government to prevent its own bankruptcy. Ford didn’t take a loan. Yes, GM paid back the loan. But, the worst is yet to come.
On Friday, June 6, 2014, the front page of the NYT article by Bill Vlasic states, “ A sweeping internal investigation of General Motors released on Thursday condemned the company for its decade-long failure to fix a deadly safety defect, one that led to ‘devastating consequences,’ including at least 13 deaths.” As a result of the report written by Anton R. Valudas, 15 GM employees were dismissed, including a lawyer and a vice-president. No collusion or cover-up was found, just plain old “nonchalance, ignorance and incompetence”, according to Stout, Ruiz and Ivory. It seems that none of the afore said negative behavior attached itself to the very upper management. The 15 dismissed, according to Sen. Richard Blumenthal, “Absolve upper management, denies deliberate wrong doing and dismisses corporate culpability.” Yea, sure. How the mighty have fallen!