Tuesday, December 06, 2005

GM: The Agony Continues- Part 3

General Motor’s CEO Rick Waggoner’s op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal this morning is a pathetic paean to socialistic corporate policy.

Waggoner first makes a dismissive nod to the need for producing vehicles which people actually want to buy, rather than stuffing GM products with various features that still fail to address the overall demand of the driving public. The extent of his solution is found in this passage, “We will step up our performance in this regard.”

Wow. And all this time, it was so easy. Just write that you will ‘step up …performance,’ and you have it covered. No details as to how your entire heretofore ineffective creative design staffs will change overnight. Or how these people, or perhaps their replacements, will quickly produce newly-interpreted solutions for the vehicle-buying public. No, just tweak a few knobs down in the design department and you are back in the black!

But the really sad part of Waggoner’s article is the roughly one-third of it which wraps his company in the American flag. This tactic sent me to Bartlett’s for this line:

“Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel,” is attributed to Boswell in his Life of Johnson.

According to Waggoner, while GM freely entered into its pension agreements with its workers and their unions, they did it because “….(American manufacturers) were once held up as good corporate citizens for providing these benefits.” He goes on to say that these same companies are now “maligned for our poor judgement in ‘giving away’ such benefits 40 years ago.”

What Mr. Waggoner fails to realize, as apparently did his predecessors, is that his and their fiduciary duty is to GM’s shareowners, not to a faceless holder of opinions about whether a company is a “good corporate citizen.” He takes the easy way out, pleading that GM’s prior and current managements must bend to the will of public opinion regarding their status as corporate citizens.

Never mind their option to make their own case to these same opinion-holders regarding the long-term financial inviability of the agreements GM freely made. Instead, Waggoner effectively blames the social environment of the last 40 years for his company’s plight. I would opine that, if anything, this displays how inept the GM management has been for years at correctly assessing its own costs of business, and putting its shareholders first.

If this kind of scapegoating and avoidance of responsibility is how Waggoner plans to lead GM, I continue to predict that he will have a short tenure.

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