Mike (Neiss, not Porter) gave us a fabulous Comment on GM ... which I deemed worthy of a center-column Post-status.
"Oh boy ... now this is a topic! First, let me explain that I have seen GM from the inside and from the outside. As a baby boomer, many of the folks I worked with as we were making our way up the ladder in that old traditional corporate model, are now running the place. I have seen great talent at GM. Skip LeFauve comes to mind. Jerry Hirshberg is another. And Tom, we can't forget Pat Carrigan. And let us not be too quick to blame the union. Some pretty good leaders there over the years, Leonard Woodcock, Doug Fraser, Irv Bluestone. And in a much too oversimplified statement, even with all these smart people, they created their own problem. My goodness, while I was there Toyota handed over the entire Toyota Production System model as part of the NUUMI project. They can never say they didn't know. What they can say is that they never had the courage or the stomach to do the hard stuff. Sure they cherry picked shop floor management, JIT, SPC, standardized work ... etc. I remember Dr Deming telling us at a management meeting that the head of Toyota wasn't afraid to share their 'secrets' with us because we couldn't even see what we needed to see and besides 'GM management will never do it.'
"Rick Wagoner is another example of finance whiz kid elevated to CEO. I like his personality better, but I can't help but think this is Roger Smith repackaged with a bit more tact. I am a huge supporter of being a responsible steward for the business when it comes to managing costs, but it ain't the whole enchilada. As a matter of fact lean and operational excellence are part of their problem. Can you really reduce design to numbers? Well, sure you can, it is called market share. But you can't reduce it to numbers short term. Jerry Hirshberg left Buick and went and started a cool little organization called Nissan Design Institute ... and introduced the Infiniti line, the Altima, and his last car, the 350 Z. Read Jerry's account of design at GM in his book 'Creative Priority.' You'll understand GM much better. I have always wondered whether it was a coincidence that Jerry left Nissan (he was retirement age) about the same time Ghosn showed up. Once in awhile GM has deviated from the accountant running the car company story. Bob Stempel was a car guy. Bob didn't have a chance trying to clean up for Roger Smiths mess in a tough economy. What is Bob doing today?? Oh, just running his new company producing hydrogen fuel cells.
"Look, I feel bad for my friends and colleagues at GM. But I don't feel sorry for them. They forgot design, they forgot the customer, they forgot R&D, they forgot they are a car company. Their demise was clearly a choice. Not a symptom of our economy, but a choice made in the boardroom at GM. I for one, don't think Ghosn will matter at GM. He's a cost cutter. Wagoner does that pretty well. It's the last gasp of a drowning company.
"My one hope is that they will be a case study for all those organizations hoping to become as big as GM. The big just crash harder."
(Mike has long been associated with the Tom Peters Company and occasionally Posts here; for some reason he was overcome by shyness, restricted himself to a Comment, and therefore I guess I've got to do it for him!—TP)