Wednesday, June 10, 2009

GM Knows Cars — Not

Getting General Motors through bankruptcy is far from a done deal, but if it does happen, the company cannot exactly breathe easier. It still has to make cars that people want and sell them in huge numbers, or it may be back in bankruptcy again a year later. It’s fitting, then, that the man tapped to be chairman at the new GM says, “I don’t know anything about cars.”

GM has been run for years by men who were so sure they knew everything about cars that they were slow to acknowledge or fix the many problems with the cars they made. At the same time, they neglected the customer experience, ran advertising that had the world laughing at them, ultimately refused to write a simple business plan, and in the end reneged on their financial commitments. They thought they knew so much cars that nothing else would matter. With a group like that, it is only fitting to put them under the direction of someone who cares about running a business correctly.

People who think they know everything don’t make effective business leaders. They can run a successful company only if they are out of the office enough to let the workers fix their many mistakes. By contrast, business leaders who know that there is much they do not know are more likely to listen to their customers and to the experts who work for them. It is that listening process that makes a company intelligent, and the new GM will need that, and a lot more, to have a chance of success in an industry that is changing more rapidly than ever before.