Automakers Are Entitled

The New York Times carried a story Sunday about Grosse Pointe, the town that has been home to most of the top auto executives through the years. The story was about how the downturn in the auto business has affected this extremely well-to-do neighborhood. I found it interesting as I know the area.

There was one quote in the article that hit me like the thrust from a GTO running three deuces. According to the Times, Prudence Cole, a career counselor in Grosse Pointe, said that one manager at G.M recently asked her advice about preparing to enter the job market.

I'm thinking what's newsworthy of that? It is her job! But, then she went on to say that "an executive from G.M. would never have asked me that. People came to equate the company with stability. You had a job for life."

And, that's when it hit me. Even as recently as a few months ago G.M. executives believed they were entitled to jobs for life. Do you think this kind of thinking was likely to lead to the kind of change that management desperately needed to implement? Is someone who believes they are entitled going to rock the status quo? Do you think this thinking led to right-brain creativity or left-brain analytical "let's not take a chance or make a mistake decisions?"

Entitlement of any kind has a strange affect on thinking. For some people it allows them to operate more effectively. Others who feel entitled never come close to their potential. I've seen both scenarios in family businesses. If you are the owner of a family business you need to always guard against leading your family to believe they are entitled to their positions. And, yet you want to support them enough so they can reach their potential and make the kinds of decisions that will allow the company to grow. They need to be willing to break the status quo. And, you have to let them.

When car buyers were saying we want gas economy and safety, Detroit was giving us bigger fins and bigger engines. When we said we wanted reliability they offered us body sealant and rustproofing – at an additional cost. Foreign manufacturers listened. And, they ate their lunch.

Are you listening?

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