RUDE AWAKENING: The Rise, Fall and Struggle for Recovery of General Motors by Maryann Keller

RUDE AWAKENING: The Rise, Fall and Struggle for Recovery of General Motors

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A balanced albeit unsparing audit of what ails General Motors. A securities analyst who follows the automotive group, Keller provides a brief, eminently readable history of the Motown colossus and its typically autocratic management practices. Her focus, though, is on the stewardship of Roger Smith, who became GM's chairman in 1980 at age 55. During his incumbency, the author reports in telling detail, the giant car-maker has continued losing market share to domestic as well as foreign rivals. Whether, as Smith believes, advanced technology will arrest, let alone reverse, the prolonged skid in the company's economic fortunes remains a very open question in her mind. While giving him credit for willingness to break the bureaucratic mold, Keller faults Smith on any number of specific actions. With the benefit of hindsight, she argues that the Electronic Data Systems and Hughes Aircraft acquisitions were, costly embarrassments, while internal-development programs like the Saturn project have added billions of dollars to corporate overhead without curbing the inroads made by either Japanese or US adversaries. In the meantime, she charges, Smith has largely ignored the lessons to be learned from NUMMI, a joint venture with Toyota, which has proven remarkable productive, mainly because it encourages cooperation rather than antagonism on the part of union workers. As a practical matter, Keller asserts, the Smith regime has tended to confuse change with progress. If GM is to be geared to the exigencies of global competion in the 21st century, she concludes, the Detroit-based hierarchy must forsake its heritage of arrogant paternalism and develop a new tradition of leadership--one that accepts the limitations of technology as well as the importance of human factors. A savvy critique of a consequential enterprise, which affords a larger frame of reference than either Doron Levin's Irreconcilable Differences (p. 358) or Albert Lee's Call Me Roger (1988).

Pub Date: Sept. 21st, 1989
Publisher: Morrow