Wednesday, March 25, 2009


Some of the value of morning news is its ability to wake you up by really ticking you off--sometimes before you get out of bed.  This morning I heard this piece on NPR, which really burned my cookies and shed some serious light on why our nation's car companies are failures (even if we haven't let them fail yet).  It talks about how General Motors still supplies a company car (for $250 a month) and free gas to about 8,000 of its white-collar workers. 
The official name of this monstrosity in the budget is the "Product Evaluation Program."  Employees who get a company car are asked to fill out a product evaluation survey, which supposedly goes...somewhere.  Walter McManus, a former GM economist, takes issue with that claim:
"I'm not aware — when I was in market research or in product planning — of anyone at GM ever using the information for any sort of analysis or any product development decisions," McManus said. "No one that I knew took it seriously."
GM argues that their engineers are using the data.  Even if that's true, how critical are you going to be of a new car for which gas is free?  Employees can get a new car every 6 months (it used to be 3--nice belt-tightening, there, GM)--even the worst-built car can usually make it 6 months before it leaves you stranded at the side of the road or needs serious maintenance.  For $250 a month I can get a car that runs for free?  Color me impressed--what's not to like?
This is right up there with going to Washington in the company jet.  In fact, it's worse.  The company jet was less of a slap in the face to all the GM employees who work hard to make the company successful, and who face truly dire consequences if GM can't get its act together (and it doesn't even look like they're trying).  Factory workers in particular put their trust in the white collar employees to direct the company's efforts to produce valuable and desirable products. 
Most white-collar employees have more transferable skills--if you lose your job as a strategist for GM, you can retool your resume to become a strategist in another manufacturing industry (assuming America has any manufacturing left after this travesty).  If you have the right skillset, you can teach in a business school.  But if your entire resume is line work in a factory, you have a less luxurious list of options--and there are a LOT of you who need jobs when a factory shuts down.
I've worked in companies that pushed back when we wanted to buy post-it notes.  I'm not saying that's a valuable use of company resources, but at least we weren't throwing shareholder money around on things that actively shot our company in the foot.  This spending is so irresponsible that I'm not sure the English language has a word for it.
There--I've ticked you off.  I feel better now.

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