Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Bob Lutz- Savior of the Car Making World!

To read Bob Lutz' version of Detroit's decline, he personally knew better than everyone else at Chrysler, Ford and GM how to run a car company.

So how is it two went into bankruptcy and he's not running the third which is doing better?

Lutz recently had his book published, so he's on the talk show tour as the Wall Street Journal released two excerpts of the book in recent editions.

Let's just say I'm completely underwhelmed with Lutz' tale. Where to start?

Well, my first reaction, after only about half of the first Journal excerpt, was that I believe objective auto sector journalist, Pulitzer Prize winner and former Journal executive and one-time squash partner Paul Ingrassia did this all better and earlier. You can still see Paul periodically on CNBC and read his pieces in the Journal. I think he was easily two decades ahead of Lutz in recognizing the same defects at the Big Three.

My second reaction is to distrust anyone who was a senior executive with real power at failed companies who claims he knew better, but it was the culture and everyone around him who were the problems.

Lutz clearly has no shortage of ego. He constantly describes himself as a 'car guy' who knew better than everyone else at Chrysler and GM. He portrays himself as patiently teaching design teams how to do their jobs. Ruminating on whether he was really able to impart enough of his personal values about cars to the teams. Did any of it take? Was it really just Bob doing all the work after all?

Frankly, most of what Lutz revealed was, as I noted above, either already disclosed by Ingrassia years ago, or are things which most business observers with a brain had already figured out.

For example, back in the 1970s, my late father, a senior engineer and marketing executive at an American mining equipment company, remarked on how badly designed and made the expensive Chrysler New Yorker was. How you could run your finger along the hood and cut it on the raw, unfinished edge of the sheet metal.

As I'm writing this, Lutz is hamming it up on CNBC, enjoying the adulation and on-air time as he goes on and on about no-longer shocking practices at the failed US auto makers. His remarks about debates at GM regarding incentives and margins is, again, old news.

For a retired senior executive at not one, but two failed companies and a nearly-failed third one, Lutz seems to feel compelled to tell 'his' story, regardless of the fact that it's no longer newsworthy.

From what I read in the Journal pieces, it's not enough of a personal career story to be unique in that way. All Lutz' comments on air and published passages attempt to paint himself as the one enlightened guy in a car company full of 'bean counters.'

In one passage in the first Journal excerpt, Lutz dated his epiphany on some issue to fairly late in his career, which leads one to conclude that much of what Lutz claims as insight was actually, well, hindsight.

His story just doesn't ring true. Either he was an early seer who failed to lead and manage, or came late to these realizations, and, therefore, like most of those three companies' managements, was naive and dull-witted during their declines.

Which was Bob Lutz' true path? We'll probably never know. But we know which path it wasn't- enlightened and talented manager rises through embracing the truth and leads company to success.

Given that, I can't imagine spending any money to read Lutz' self-inflating stories of his days at Chrysler, GM and Ford, or his views about them now.

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