Tonight’s CNBC Special on "Saving GM"


CNBC Link to Show and Online Video

I'm setting the DVR from England and will watch this over the internet when time allows (isn't technology great?). A PR person from CNBC pointed out this show, so I thought I'd suggest it since we talk about GM here quite a bit. I wonder if the show will talk about Lean and the Toyota Production System, or if it will be full of typical GM excuse making?

There is an online video featuring an assembly line worker from Lake Orion, MI, Warren Kennedy.

I think GM needs to save themselves, rather than asking for others to save them. What do you think, about GM or this show, if you watched it? They talk about how the GM culture “used to tolerate shoddy workmanship.” They'd say “ship it,” Warren says (and I believe him – since I heard that when I was at GM also, making engines). Quantity was the primary objective.

And GM wants saving? How do you save someone from self-inflicted wounds? “But oil prices are high.” That's whining. And I'm less sympathetic since they did a lot of this to themselves. Are you as sympathetic when an alcoholic has cirrhosis compared to a kid who has a congenital liver disease? Probably not.

“Now we're not gonna send it to the dealer with a screw missing or a part missing, just to make a shipment,” Kennedy says.

Wow, how progressive, how heartwarming, how “lean” (ahem). He says this all while interviewed on the assembly line… and he's since taken a buy out. Good for Warren. Good luck to him. He put in 31 years there… not easy. Imagine all the B.S. he's seen?

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. From the Wall St Journal today:

    GM is, surprise, squeezing their advertisers. “Slash your price by 20%” GM dictates. Yikes, not exactly the model of supplier collaboration…. once again.


    2nd article about the Big 3/Detroit 3 surviving or not:


  2. Mark,

    I would have preferred that you made your comments and judgment AFTER you watched the show.

    It’s been 10 years since you worked at GM and frankly a lot of your stories are now just rehashing ancient history. What specifically on the engine was wrong when they said “ship it”? And who (what level) made the decision? Was it related to some spec that was at the limit or somewhat out? You make it sound like a piston was missing or it was burning oil or something.

    A don’t think anyone (except the politicians) is talking about a bailout – GM certainly isn’t waiting for the government, but is rather taking the necessary actions to preserve cash. I suppose if the government offered a loan for $4B guaranteed by our taxpayer dollars, GM wouldn’t turn it down.

    As for GM pressing ad agencies on cost, wouldn’t anyone like to reduce the commission of their real estate agent by 20%. Much of the advertising put together by these highly-paid creative minds has obviously been ineffective (think suicide robot). If GM can reduce the commissions, good for them! Today’s article in the WSJ points out the ripples in the economy, particularly on the media, which is now suffering from continually biting the hand that is feeding them.

    In the interest of disclosure, I am a GM employee and have been for 40 years (GM’s code of ethics requires one identify himself as an employee when making blog comments.) I should also disclose that I am Mark’s father.

    Yes, there are plenty of challenges ahead. I am proud to say that I’m working on the Volt project, including the engineering of the lithium ion battery (it’s much more than just packaging up 7,000 laptop batteries). The show did conclude there’s a lot riding on the Volt and customer expectations that are being built up, and if the customer expectations aren’t met, there will be many customers who won’t come back.

    But gratuitous bashing such as “He put in 31 years there… not easy. Imagine all the B.S. he’s seen?” doesn’t cut it. I’ve been with GM 40 years – maybe you can say I’m part of the problem, but I’m the guy who put Mark through college, turned him on to Deming, and throughout my career (product assurance, service engineering, and Design For Six Sigma) I’ve been an advocate for what’s right for the customer. It does a disservice to paint everyone at GM with such a broad brush based on your 18 months of experience from 10 years ago.

  3. I caught most of the show last night, and it was pretty good. They talked about the quality and financial issues, but they also addressed new products, oversees markets, and other things. Interesting stuff.

  4. I didn’t say everyone at GM is a bad person or nobody cares about quality. Far from it. The problem, as Deming would say, is top management.

    I worked (for 23 months) at a plant where hundreds of people who cared about quality were often overruled by a few top production managers. I’m not going to post all of my first hand stories here, but we did have managers who refused to let UAW workers do qaulity checks per the published plan (this wasn’t just a UAW line stoppage game either). I know we shipped stuff the workers and engineers were concerned about (out of pressure to not shut down the Caddy plant) and we did ship many engines that ended up smoking and having problems. I grew tired of it quickly and got out (and public thanks are due to my parents for helping pay for grad school so I could get out of there and find better opportunities).

    I hope it is indeed “ancient history” at the plants, quality attitudes like I saw and the UAW described.

    Yes, my dad turned me on to Deming (and hence, Lean) as I credited him in my last podcast.

    I don’t think my little bit of ranting is any more than a drop in the ocean of ill will that’s been built up by past quality problems.

    Is Warren Kennedy being blamed for talking about their past quality problems on a major cable network?

    That did more harm to GM’s attempts to repair their image than anything I could say here.

  5. GM “asking” for a 20% cut… asking? No, that’s supplier bullying. Didn’t Deming say something like “if you can make improvement just by making a target, why didn’t you do that earlier? or set a better goal?”

    If GM was overpaying… why didn’t they ask for a 20% cut last year? Why not a 25% cut?

    What are they demanding from their suppliers these days? More than the typical 5%?

  6. Ditto what this guy said on a different blog

    “If GM can’t save itself, then no one can. It was brought down by cockiness and swagger, which led to poor products and decision-making. If GM had been diligent and put some hard work into their products, this would not be an issue.

    In the business world, it’s kill or be killed. And the future looks grim for all big American three.”

  7. I can remember seeing a GM executive interviewed when the first Honda civics were imported. With the cocky attitude, arrogance, i knew at that time they had real compitition. I do not want them to fail, but they have worked so hard at it, it’s difficult not to think they deserve it.


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