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GM Claims Success by Lowering Expectations

Several years ago I was approached by a client who wanted to co-author a book with me. His idea was to write about an alternative approach to succeeding in business, and his working title was: “Manage your Way to Success by Lowering Expectations.” I was pretty sure at the time that it was an approach I wanted no part of, and so I declined to participate. However, it now looks like my client was ahead of his time.

Last week, as I was listening for a local weather report while getting dressed for work in an Ohio hotel room, the local ABC news affiliate announced proudly: “General Motors is back on top!”. He went on to explain that for the first time in years, GM had actually sold more automobiles here in he United States than its chief rival, Toyota. It caused me to remember that about a year ago, General Motors was actually airing commercials stating that “GM quality is now as good as Toyota”.

Shame on General Motors! As a career-long American manufacturing professional, I find it humiliating to hear the flagship of US manufacturing, which was the largest manufacturing company in the world – by a wide margin – has been cowed into such a sycophantic relationship with a Japanese auto company. US automotive manufacturers began to fall behind the Japanese back n the 1980s, when Toyota introduced a monumental improvement in manufacturing operational efficiency called the Toyota Production System (TPS). Dubbed “Just-In-Time Manufacturing” in those days, many elements of the system were adopted in the United States. Some of the TPS methods included setup time reduction, statistical process control, focus on cleanliness and orderliness of the workplace, and most importantly a total devotion to eliminating waste of all kinds in the manufacturing environment. While US manufacturers have made great strides in adopting many of these techniques, automotive manufacturers have been behind the 8 ball consistently, losing ever-larger percentages of world-wide market share since that time to foreign competitors, even here at home.

About a year before GM declared bankruptcy, I authored a letter to the CEO of General Motors imploring him to make changes before it was too late. In that letter, I pointed out that GM has had every conceivable advantage: from sophisticated information management systems such as Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) to sweeping materials technology advances like composites, fiber optics and ceramics to unprecedented availability of automation and robotics. Even so, GM leadership demonstrated again and again over 3 decades that they could no longer effectively manage their own operations. The letter was – of course – ignored, and the rest is history.

Now, after bankruptcy, an unimaginable Government bailout, and the closing down of major product lines including Oldsmobile, Pontiac, and Saturn, General Motors has the unmitigated gall to boast about selling more automobiles in the United States than Toyota. The United States Government still owns over 25% of GM stock! There is little satisfaction in the fact that GM’s CEO was ejected during this debacle, especially when one considers that essentially the replacement CEO has been President Obama. Just today, a new Gallup poll was published that makes it clear Obama is even worse for our country Han a failed General Motors. ( With the least private sector experience in recent history, President Obama’s team has driven US debt levels far beyond any point in this nation’s history, and even presided over a lowering of our credit rating. He has instructed the Department of Justice to refuse to enforce our nation’s laws (the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA). He has refused to do anything the stem the tide of ileagle immigration. He has wrung his hands and watched as the unemployment rate hovered between 8% and 10% throughout his term in office. Joseph Curl’s recent Washington Post article expertly recounts the numbers. (

Now, as we enter the most heated part of The American political cycle – a Presidential election year – it seems fitting somehow that the rhetoric from companies like General Motors so closely mirrors the heavy spin coming out of the Obama campaign. But fitting as it might be, it is no less sickening.

What do you think?

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