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GM is advised to stay lean and ahead of the curve

I'm pulling the emergency brake on this nostalgic road trip we're on now that GM has gone Chapter 11. It's about time. Yes, GM is a remarkable yesteryear story of our auto industry. Blah blah blah.

If you want to read what has already happened, look elsewhere. If you want to gauge GM's extraordinary challenges ahead, read on. The government bailout — heard the one about renaming GM Obama Motors Co. yet? — remains a high-risk venture.

On one hand, the federal rescue undermines basic capitalism: Those that cannot compete are supposed to die off and make room for others. (Of course, we just bailed out our biggest banking company, Citigroup, so why not GM? Nasty precedent.)

On the other hand, now that we the taxpayers own 60 percent of GM — good grief — let's not muck it up and watch it crash again.

That will be a very tall order. We'd be fools to think top brains at Toyota, Honda, BMW, Mercedes, Fiat (now controlling the "new" Chrysler), Hyundai, India's Tata Motors and the entire Chinese auto industry are not huddling right now to exploit GM's fragile state.

In addition to the 26,664 GM retirees in Florida (fourth behind Michigan, Ohio and Indiana), we have some pretty savvy entrepreneurs and business managers here in the Tampa Bay area. So on Monday I asked them:

What single piece of advice would you give GM now that it has a second chance? Responses are edited for space.

• • •

The market will be delivered by organizations who do more with less and see the big global picture. — Kurt J. Long, CEO and founder, FairWarning Inc., St. Petersburg

We've taught for over two decades in business schools that if a company wants to stay profitable, it has to be a global company first. GM chose to be an American company first, based on loyalty of the American consumer. The American consumer proved to be only loyal to quality and value for their money. Use this opportunity to be a global company, and then let America conquer the world. — Dean Frank Ghannadian, John H. Sykes College of Business, professor of finance, University of Tampa

When GM sends a product to China, the quality will suffer and by the time they get it right, the Chinese will have taken it over and will not need GM. This is your country, too, GM. To the UAW, turn from the old ways and find a way to make your company profitable. You might keep your jobs and create more. To GM and UAW: Get some people with vision or you're done. — Richard Neal, UAW Local 2405 president, Tampa

GM, shed the sins of the past and realign your cost structure with competitors'. Buy design talent that thinks out of the "American car" box. Build a car that is solid, elegant inside, beautiful and gets 35 miles per gallon for under $50,000 and I will buy it. Look at the competitors kicking your butt and ask yourself, "What are they doing better than me?" — George Gordon, CEO, Enporion, Tampa

Whatever form GM takes, it is essential that they continue to engage with their employees. — Sid Morgan, Central Florida president, Humana Inc., Tampa

Cost containment will be major. Be lean. Don't rely on leverage. — Scott Brown, chief economist, Raymond James Financial, St. Petersburg

If GM's new contract with its workers allows it to lower overhead enough, that might allow GM to refocus on one or two brands, lower its unit price and redefine its market. GM should emerge from bankruptcy a smaller, more nimble competitor. — Jeff Tucker, CEO, Tucker/Hall, Tampa

Shore up consumer confidence. Potential buyers (and current GM owners) will seek confidence in the product, warranties, parts, service needs and resale values. Even the government's warranty commitment plan announced a few month's ago has not received much attention. — Dean Robert Forsythe, College of Business, University of South Florida, Tampa

• • •

That's a lot to chew on, but GM has got a tough task ahead. When the Wall Street Journal asked readers online — Can GM find success after bankruptcy? — by Monday evening 72 percent of those responding said no.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at trigaux@sptimes.com.

GM is advised to stay lean and ahead of the curve 06/01/09 [Last modified: Monday, June 1, 2009 10:37pm]
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