Rick Wagoner has been at the helm of General Motors since the dawn of time the 21st century. In that period, he has plundered the company’s stock to near-worthless levels, slashed thousands of jobs, lost tens of billions, and left the company begging to American and Canadian taxpayers. To call his tenure at GM a failure would be a gross understatement. Interestingly, GM’s board of directors has stood behind Wagoner and supported his decisions for more than eight years, no matter how short-sighted or destructive those decisions were. This effectively negated anything to do with accountabililty at GM, which actually goes a long way towards explaining the company’s culture.
Now, it has taken an outsider, in the form of President Barack Obama’s Auto Task Force, to change the old old guard with a new old guard. Wagoner’s replacement? After the jump.
Rick Wagoner’s replacement is none other than Michigan-born Fritz Henderson, previously GM’s President and COO. While it is easy to applaud Obama’s decision to topple Wagoner, I wouldn’t expect much in the way of change if I were you. You see, Wagoner isn’t being that harshly punished, he’s actually leaving the company with a $20 million severance package and his replacement is his carbon copy except with a German-sounding name. Both Wagoner and Henderson have Harvard MBAs, both were lifers at GM, both started their careers with the company in finance, and now, both have made it to the top of the corporate hill. Now you see why the “old” guard and the “new” guard are both actually the old guard. GM’s culture, as I mentioned before, doesn’t punish or dwell failure. This eliminates any accountability because any failures that do occur are not the company’s fault. Sales are down? It’s the economy. Product sucks? That’s what people wanted. This logical perversion is a disease that can’t be cured by replacing Wagoner with Henderson.
What General Motors could really use is a CEO who has an altogether different background. Maybe even one in engineering. It strikes me that it would be infinitely easier to lead a product-driven turnaround if a company were led by someone who understood the product. Obvious, no?
In mildly related news, Christian Streiff, CEO of PSA (Peugeot Citroen), has been fired by the company’s board of directors after the company announced dismal losses in 2008. I guess there are companies out there that hold their executives accountable. It’s just that those companies don’t seem to be in North America.
Stay tuned for more news, as it happens.