By Peter M. De Lorenzo
(Posted 11/19, 4:00 p.m.) Detroit. Well, it's that time of the season with another year having gone by at a blistering pace, and traditionally it's time to take stock and give thanks for all of our bounties and good fortune, even if it's just the fact that we're still walking around unaided or breathing freely. We all certainly have plenty to be thankful for, but then again I'm still talking about the auto industry this week, so there's bound to to be a different spin on the whole idea of being thankful. And for those of you expecting a touchy-feely Hallmark type of column, well, you know that's notgonnahappen.
For instance the True Believers at Ford have to be thrilled that Alan Mulally is staying on for a couple of more years, and they're probably giving thanks on a daily basis for it. It's not that there isn't a terrific new management team coming into focus led by the talented Mark Fields, there is, and because of it the future is looking very bright for Ford. It's that after six years at Ford, and despite all the hype and the endless positive stories written about Mulally, he is very much the guy he is, one who remains true to self and to his core beliefs. His unwavering demeanor and real-time focus have not only reinvigorated Ford, they in turn have reinvigorated William Clay Ford Jr. and the emerging top brass at the company. It's no wonder that collectively Ford is thankful that the Mulally era is lasting a little longer.
But when you consider the state of the rest of the industry in this town the idea of being "thankful" takes on different meanings, and then some.
Take for instance the Two General Motors, the corporate entity that lives hard by the Detroit River. When I talk about the Two General Motors, I'm referring to a company that is split in two by the clear demarcation between CEO Dan Akerson along with his loyalists on the GM Board of Directors, and the rest of the company made up of the True Believers hard at work keeping GM in the game, product-wise.
The difference between the aura of focused enthusiasm at Ford led by the dynamic Mulally and the ongoing paranoia at GM created by CEO Dan Akerson is stark, and one filled with intense loathing. And for that reason alone, being thankful takes on an entirely different connotation for the True Believers at GM. Instead of being able to bask in the warm glow of a leader who cares, one highly regarded by his peers in the industry and by corporate America, the True Believers in the midst of it at GM exist in a tentative netherworld filled with foreboding. And their idea of being "thankful" is limited to the fact that their leader, aka "Captain Queeg," hasn't thrown them under the bus to the media as of late, while accusing them of doing mediocre work and a kaleidoscope of trumped-up transgressions that revolve around being uncompetitive.