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March 2, 2009 - GM Matters

 [The following are the comments of Bruce Steadman, and do not reflect the opinion of PARC, its Board of Directors, or its staff.]


Last weekend, I had the opportunity to be in Detroit on personal business.  It was sad and sobering to witness firsthand the economic turmoil that a reeling auto industry has inflicted on the city and all of Michigan.  However, two items of good news should be mentioned here.

First, the many Michigan residents I met were, to a person, hopeful, optimistic, smiling, and looking forward to a better day.  These people included hotel and restaurant workers, cabbies, and workers in various businesses.  I found these folks to be warm and outgoing, and willing to be helpful to a stranger in town for a short visit.  My stay was very pleasant despite the economic woes around the periphery, directly as a result of the friendliness of the fine people I encountered.

Second, at a downtown Borders, I came across a newly released book, “Why GM Matters” by William J. Holstein, published in 2009 by Walker Publishing Company, Inc., New York.  The subtitle of the book is “Inside the Race to Transform an American Icon”.  The book recounts the incredible efforts that CEO Rich Wagoner and his team have undertaken in the last several years to reinvent and retool the world’s largest corporation (at the time), and their many successes to date.  The author has spent years visiting plants, interviewing line workers and management, and conducting research to document the many strategies and initiatives underway.  It is a fascinating and eye-opening account.  I, like many people, have been numbed and even alienated to GM’s travails, resulting from the consistently negative reporting in the national media over the last several years.  And, to be honest, my own personal experience with GM’s design and quality issues in the 1980s and 1990s had left me doubtful as to the company’s viability as a car maker when compared to their foreign competitors.  However, this book has changed my opinion.  If what was written in the book is fair and accurate, and I have every reason to believe it is, then GM has made huge gains in design and quality in the past 3 years and is committed to continued significant improvements in both areas.  Further, the company has invested enormous resources in every other facet of its business, including engineering, manufacturing, training for workers, cost management, and product development that allow it to meet or exceed the benchmarks established by the Toyotas, Hondas, and other world class players.  “Why GM Matters” gives the reader a refreshing and optimistic viewpoint that General Motors may be only a couple of turns around the block from producing cars that the American public again will buy, drive, and be pleased with, and that will return GM to profitability.  The book also details the breadth and depth to which GM, and Ford and Chrysler, have positively impacted the quality of life for millions of people in the United States over the years, as workers for the auto manufacturers and auto parts suppliers, and as car buyers and enthusiasts.  Mr. Holstein interviewed and shadowed many GM people in researching the book, and the energy, enthusiasm, and personal commitment that these people have invested in their jobs is truly amazing and heart-warming.  There are thousands and thousands of intelligent, hard-working employees at GM that believe the company will rebound, survive, and even thrive well into the future.  That would be good news not just for GM and Detroit, but for the rest of us as well.   

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