Who Really Turned the U.S. Auto Manufacturers Around? Not the Big “Guys”

Situation: Alan Mulally of Ford, Dan Akerson of GM and Sergio Marchionne, CEO of Chrysler/Fiat, are being given credit – and the commensurate compensation – for turning around the so called Big Three domestic automotive manufacturers.

Big ThreeAre they really the ones who did it? While they may have helped to create a management environment for actions that lead to the recovery so far, the people who really did made it all happen were the first and second echelon management  or what car people love to call “The Team.”

It would be nice if the top management of the auto companies including the Asian and European makers were to stand in front of Wall Street and Press briefing and pay tribute and give credit to the entire management team, particularly the top ten to 25 managers.  The first thing a NASCAR drive does is thank the sponsor.

Sure the CMOs and sometimes division or vehicle marketing management gets to be featured in the automotive and business press as spokespersons in print and on cable TV.  These statements, interviews, and presentations are by and large, product pitches and typical factory-guy speeches that rarely reveal anything new or are spontaneous revelations.

Where’s Bob Lutz?  We have no more gutsy, “say like-it-like-it-is” spokespersons at any of the manufacturers, particularly the Asians – try to imagine what it is like working for the Koreans and being so careful not to say or do anything that is not prepared, rehearsed, or sanctified by someone in Seoul or Tokyo or even Torrance or Irvine.

The typical U.S. and global automotive manufacturer manager is “in a box” that allows no room for self-expression, out-of-the-box thinking, or visionary ideas or behavior in the conference room or in public. Consequently, these bright people (mostly car guys) are a contained lot that perform much like soldiers in an armed force, devoid of a voice or recognition.

The least this culture and its perpetuating leadership could foster is a new corporate practice of giving credit (forget the bonuses for a moment) for really doing the things that made the turnaround in design, manufacturing, marketing, sales and distribution really happen.  The big “guys” (ya – they are all guys) really did not make Ford “smart” or GM profitable – “It was the troops,” Guys.

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