Tag Archives: GM

The Ballad of GM

By James Kwak

Once again proving that they do in-depth business reporting as well as anyone on the radio, This American Life did an episode this past weekend on NUMMI, the auto plant in Fremont, California that is jointly operated by Toyota and GM. Well, since the GM bankruptcy it’s been operated by Toyota. And Toyota is closing it this week — the first plant to be closed in the history of the company, according to TAL.

I listened to the episode this morning in my car, a 1999 Chevrolet Prizm that was built at NUMMI and that was the first car my wife and I bought. (It has 111,000 miles and has only required minor repairs, like a power steering pump and a muffler strap.) I’ve passed by the plant itself many times on 880, driving between the East Bay and the southern end of Silicon Valley. So it was a sad and poignant story for me.

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Never a Good Sign

The board of GM asked Fritz Henderson to resign as CEO. I don’t have an opinion on Fritz Henderson. But here’s the worrying bit, from the New York Times article:

“’Fritz was just not enough of a change agent,’ [a person with direct knowledge of the board's deliberations] said. ‘The board wants a world-class C.E.O. and now they have enough breathing room to find one.’”

Having tried and rejected the inside option (Henderson was a longtime GM executive chosen to replace Rick Wagoner, who was forced out earlier this year), the board is certain to go looking for a superstar CEO from outside the company and probably outside the industry. The phrase “world-class CEO” is always a dead giveaway for delusion.

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Obama, the Light Touch?

Edmund L. Andrews and David E. Sanger have an article in The New York Times today that is sure to infuriate some people, including me. Here’s one excerpt:

“Far from eagerly micromanaging the companies the government owns, Mr. Obama and his economic team have often labored mightily to avoid exercising control even when government money was the only thing keeping some companies afloat.

“A few weeks ago, there were anguished grimaces inside the Treasury Department as the new chief executive of A.I.G., Robert H. Benmosche, whose roughly $9 million pay package is 22 times greater than Mr. Obama’s, ridiculed officials in Washington — his majority shareholders — as ‘crazies.’

“Causing even more unease to policymakers, Mr. Benmosche insisted that A.I.G. — one of the worst offenders in the risk-taking that sent the nation over the edge last year — would not rush to sell its businesses at fire-sale prices, despite pressure from Fed and Treasury officials, who are desperate to have the insurer repay its $180 billion government bailout.

“But in the end, according to one senior official, ‘no one called him and told him to shut up,’ and no one has pulled rank and told him to sell assets as soon as possible to repay the loans.

“A similar hands-off decision was made about the auto companies. Shortly after General Motors and Chrysler emerged from bankruptcy, some members of the administration’s auto task force argued that the group should not go out of business until it was confident that a new management team in Detroit had a handle on what needed to be done.

“But Mr. Summers strongly rejected that approach, and the Treasury secretary, Timothy F. Geithner, agreed.

“‘The argument was that if the president said he wasn’t elected to run G.M., then we couldn’t hire a new board and then try to run any aspect of it,’ one participant in the discussions said. The auto task force took off for summer vacation in July, and it never returned.”

The political argument for this position makes sense. Basically, Obama and his administration are afraid of being charged with “socialism” or “big government,” so they are doing what they can to defuse this charge. (Not that that will help given the way political rhetoric is thrown around these days.)

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