Monday, March 30, 2009

The Big Engine That Couldn't

Hi all. Sorry I haven't posted in a few days. I've got three exams this week, and I need to revise a paper for publication by Friday (More on that later). Today I am discussing Rick Wagoner, who last night was fired by Barack Obama from his job as Chairman and CEO of General Motors. Yes, the President asked for his resignation, and he granted it. Someone please tell me why we even have business anymore? Here's the article: demise of a douchebag.

I wish I could feel an ounce of sympathy for Wagoner, but I can't. He asked for this fate. He managed a company for eight years on the principle that profitability is a relative term (only economists actually believe that). When cash ran thin this year, he and his Detroit buddies went crawling to Mommy to bail them out. And because GM is Amer'can, whatever that means these days, it got the money. Shockingly, the money ran out, and they needed more money. Finally, the government had had enough of GM's incompetence, and last night they ousted the captain and replaced him with the first mate of the GM Titanic, the current COO. I'm sure it'll be roses and gumdrops from here on.

And sure enough, with optimism rivaling Stalin, the administration announced that it is "prepared to stand by GM throughout this process to ensure that GM emerges with a fresh start and a promising future."

We all know the political lessons to glean from this scenario, but I think the less obvious lesson is the business one that really drove the nail into GM's coffin. Other than the political pandering, the environmentalist bullshit, the labor appeasement and pacification, the financing shenanigans, the shitty, unprincipled management, and the all-around bad karma, what finally killed GM was poor cash flow management.

Lots of companies rely on short-term borrowing to fill holes in their cash inflow, so that they can meet their expenses. GM, however, tried to ride that debt horse into the credit crisis, and we know how well that turned out. Generating cash from sales is crucial for navigating rough waters like we face today, especially when you face the galactic labor costs GM does. In the auto industry, it's difficult to keep cash coming in reliably from sales, but maybe, then, a smaller, leaner auto manufacturer might be a preferable business model to the stumbling golem model we enjoy today.

Just a thought.

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