Marginal: Be Resolute

Columns From: 1/1/2007 Automotive Design & Production, , Editor-in-Chief from Gardner Business Media, Inc.

This could be a year of slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Or a time when you resolve to succeed

Here it is, January 2007. A time for a new start. A fresh start. A time when people make resolutions. Resolutions that are meant to resolve things. Like if one thinks he’s too fat, the resolution takes the form of diet and exercise. If someone else thinks she drives too fast, then the resolution takes the form of being more aware of the position of the throttle in relation to the posted speed limit. As is well known and undoubtedly quantified, those resolutions tend to go by the wayside way too early. Nothing gets resolved. The problems continue to exist. And then in another year it begins anew, with the likelihood that by then there will be additional problems to choose from.

The domestic auto industry made several resolutions in 2006. What’s more, they seem to have been making efforts that seemed to be focused on resolving their problems. In one sense, there may be nothing more than a whole lot of seeming going on, and less in the way of actually resolving the problems. Sound and fury, perhaps portending positive changes of fortune. Maybe. As 2007 is a year in which the Detroit Three’s management will meet with their opposite numbers from the United Auto Workers for crafting contracts, they must be prepared to be resolute in their efforts to get to a working relationship that takes into account the realties of competitiveness in all of its facets. Sure, everyone knows that the market is different than it was not so long ago...that customers are increasingly demanding, wanting more but not paying more...that there are more and more products to choose from...that there is a shift of U.S. production toward the south. And everyone knows that it isn’t good to be too fat and to drive too fast.

The need to be resolute—and realistic—is essential. Otherwise, before the decade is out there is likely to be significant contraction—beyond what has already been announced and/or implemented. General Motors, Chrysler, and Ford will continue to exist, but the nature of their existence—as regards size, employment, capabilities, and location of manufacturing (i.e., if an increasing number of plants are located in Mexico, eastern Europe, and China, that’s not going to do much for people in the U.S. unless they happen to be shareholders)—will be set this fall, as labor and management determine their relationships going forward. All of this is, of course, at a macro level. On a day-to-day basis, we exist on a micro, or individual, level. We are the ones who eat too much or drive too fast. We are the ones who must deal with what we do and how we do it. We are the ones with—or without—a job. Sure, there are forces that affect us, but they are subordinate to what we can do. Assuming that we do it and don’t allow ourselves to be buffeted by those forces. Each of us has to take control and do what it takes in our own manner. There is no model that will work for all of us. But what is true for all of us is that we have individual accountability.

In Success Built to Last: Creating a Life That Matters by Jerry Porras, Stewart Emery and Mark Thompson (Wharton School Publishing; $22.99), the authors make a point that people in all industries and at all levels ought to consider long and hard: “Your co-workers or competitors who love their work try harder, try more things, move faster, come up with more ideas, and frankly, get better opportunities to move up and contribute more than people who only do things for a living.” Yes, they believe it is important that people who work for a living actually be engaged in it on more than a this-is-something-I-gotta-do-and-can’t-wait-for-the-weekend level that many people have historically gotten by on. “The harsh truth is that if you don’t love what you’re doing, you’ll lose to someone who does,” and that person “will work harder and longer. They will out run you.” And you will be left, no doubt, looking for some way to earn a living. It’s no longer a matter of doing something to “get by.” Those people will simply be bypassed.

One point that can’t get overlooked in any of this is that what the authors are talking about isn’t easy. It isn’t comfortable. It isn’t even a sure thing. As in: “Few passions come conveniently pre-financed; you have to pay for them with sweat equity whenever you can squeeze them in” and “There are no safe choices when it comes to lasting success unless the selection is based on real meaning”—and even then, the meaning may be an individual thing, not something necessarily popular or even recognized. But be resolved.