Saturday, December 6, 2008

Is what's good for GM good for the revolution?

Let's continue with cars, since they seem to be in the news and in the air, so to speak, so much these days.

We've already heard the old version of the phrase; and according to many prominent economists, it still holds true, as any failure by the big three would directly or indirectly touch 2.5 million jobs. Ouch. But let's try to think long term and long green.

Give the big three a chance.

Let's not forget that despite having a pitiful market cap, the big three have a powerful reach into engineering, marketing and manufacturing muscle. It could be easily argued that had the big three had enough insight and kaizen, they would have been much better positioned to provide the world's best and most fuel efficient cars. Think about it: the big three have now been in the business of transportation for almost a century, they have some great thinkers, and they have (had) the cash to spend on significant R&D. Sounds like the right ingredients for an alternative energy revolution to me. But what happened?

As any successful VC partner will tell you, a company is only as good as the people who lead it. Clearly, this is where the big three had the most trouble. Short terms profits and complacency were emphasized despite having almost three decades of significant market share taken away by leaner competitrors. Sure, there have been turn around plans, and ways forward, and private equity leveraged takeovers, but we now see - it simply did not work. The blame lies squarely in the executive suite. While shareholders have been hurt the worst, executives continued to receive million dollar salaries and bonuses while their businesses lost billions. Thank goodness I don't own any of that toxic stock.

But now we have to deal with reality: while Ford stands a little bit healthier, we might not be talking about a big three in Detroit for much longer. I do not worry about their failure because my family depended on a middle class lifestyle back in the day, or about the millions of jobs tied to the auto industry, rather, I worry that an extensive manufacturing process, great intellectual capital, and years industry know-how will be lost with a failure. This is sad because all the significant work put into creating these bohemoths will be simply lost instead of having it focused on the revolution. So I say let's give them a chance. Not necessarily from the government, but from someone. I believe in the great American company as I believe in the great American dream. But as we have seen with this outgoing administration, incompetency at the helm will drive away dreams faster than a Tesla roadster. And so I hope against hopes that all is not lost.

But would I give a multibillion dollar loan to GM if I had the cash? Hell no! Not with those clowns still leading.

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