I was watched a little bit of the last auto executives grilling (smoky flavor), and I have to say they were a huge group of clueless morons.  For all the money they make, you’d think they would get the simple things, like:

Your salary is not a prize, or yours for that matter.  Your salary is a reflection of your commitment, responsibility, and risk you assume heading a company. 

As the cookie cutter executives blathered on and danced around a word, a word that was clearly "victim", I began to realize it’s not the market that brought down these companies, it was their clueless CEOs. 

You see, they are victims just like everyone else.  They are just guys, regular guys, employees at their respective companies, paid just like everyone else and worried about their salaries, families, etc.  I’m just a regular joe trying to fix a problem, they seem to say.  This isn’t about me, they say.  It’s about the company.  Please help us.  Help us poor working folks.  You see, I drove here in a hybrid.  Aren’t I special.

You’re not showing me anything special, Mr. Auto-exec.  In fact, I’m starting to wonder why we paid you all that money. 

Let me spell it out for you.  Here’s what happens when things go awry.  You take the hit, Mr. Auto-exec, until such a time as the company improves.  It’s your fault, Mr. Auto-exec.  You get the big salary, as an indication of risk, your responsibility for performance.  You have the most to lose, so you get a big salary.  If things don’t go well, we fire you.  We blame you.  It is your fault.  In some cultures, those responsible parties feel such commitment to their company that they commit suicide.  That’s going a bit far, but in this case I’d like to see top executives stick to a few simple rules.

I’ll call them, Jim’s nine rules to successful leadership at a car company.

  1. Drive yourself to work everyday in a base model (or car that your company wants to promote).  Love that car, know it inside and out.  Do your own oil changes.
  2. Get down in the dirt with the mechanics once in a while.  Walk the production floor EVERY single day in some plant across the country.
  3. Sit in on and understand engineering meetings.  If you are not an engineer, use your company’s education benefits and get a degree.  This is not an option at a car company.
  4. Sit in on and understand marketing/advertising meetings.  If you are not a marketing person, use your company’s education benefits and get a degree.  This
    is not an option at a car company.
  5. Understand the finances of your company.  If you are not a CPA, take some courses, and take the certification exam.  If you are not an MBA (which isn’t very likely, I suppose), get one.
  6. Stay late at the office and talk to the cleaning staff.  Talk to your designers.  Have lunch with union leadership.  Meet with your plant managers, line workers, dealers, customers, all the time, constantly.
  7. Give up your salary at the first hint of trouble.  Live off your carefully managed investment portfolio. 
  8. Take blame yourself in the bad times
  9. Give credit to others in the good times

Any questions?