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Excellent posts and insightful comments from someone who has experienced it firsthand.

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Stephan F-

I turned down a job offer with Rockwell for the union controller tools. I knew that was not going to work.
It's amazing that we can get into space or fight wars at all.
It has become obvious that we have got to get rid of the anti-competitive regulations so we could make some really awesome products.

Cameron S.

I don't think making a young engineering intern type from tier 1 schools is a good use of the skills - and "busy work" is -never- good work for someone who is overqualified unless they need the money. As an intern, he wasn't there for the money.

Our engineering interns get to work on R+D projects on their own and in teams so we can see how they work, and how far they can carry something forward and how effectively they make use of the team and company resources. The weak ones never collaborate - the strong ones are champions.

jason kenny

Personally I would put a lovely bench so all the squirrels could use it and maybe add a mini bar and a Jacuzzi at a later date just for the wildlife though!

Rodolpho Arruda

After two years with HP Learning and Development (L&D) I believe executives live in another world, a parallel world where cultural aspects and their management play an insignificant role in decision making when compared to the power of the "spreadsheet". By the "spreadsheet" I mean all the numbers, scenarios, KPIs and projections they use daily to make decisions that affect employees all around the globe. They don't care whether you work two days a week - which is good - or seven - which is bad. They check on the final results in their spreadsheet. Power distance is huge, so is alienation from what's happening in the field.

@Dave - I know exactly what you mean. I've been through identical situations within HP myself.

Kevin Rutkowski

Kevin (not me), I enjoyed your post. I agree with Dr. Sutton that the Big 3 have trouble with innovation, but I also don't like some of the dialogue on the national stage that implies that the Big 3 are completely incompetent.

Clearly, GM, Ford, and Chrysler have an amazing history and still sell a huge number of high quality cars. They definitely need to change, but they also don't deserve to be thrown on the garbage heap.

On the topic of lower-level employees deferring to leaders, I have worked in other countries and found that deference to people in positions of authority seems to be culturally demanded in the workplace in some countries. I wonder if that cultural issue will hurt those countries' industries in the long term or will change over time.

Matthew Pearson

Thanks to Joe for that - You tend to see this everywhere. Certainly innovators like Ford himself would be shocked by this - or would they? I think the problem is not with executives themselves but the structure that supports them tends to eliminate the possibilities for someone like Joe (and here I mean Joe Lee the engineer, not a Joe of any other profession).
I believe that having a high rate of employment in a nation lulls the people into a very comfortable state - almost asleep - especially when corporate culture strokes the employee mindset and puts managers in charge of strategy.

It isn't that corporations are bad by default, but when you put a whole lot of people in a big building, give them what they want and leave them alone for a hundred years, drive tends die a little - ever been to Pasadena?

Having a shakeup like this could have woken some new innovators up, but putting companies on life support seems to be the order of the day. So we see more and more of these zombie-like half-dead companies wandering around moaning - unable to live because they are unsustainable; unable to die in order to allow change in the market.

Soon we may all be thus infected.


Mr. Sutton,

For the record, I do not work for the Big 3 but did in a roundabout way for lots of years. Having worked "with" one of the Big 3 I can safely say that there are many aspects that are frustrating in their approach. However, I believe that the criticism that's being leveled is unfair and speaks more of the coastal "bias" that seems to propigate itself in the blogosphers.

I've tried to remain quiet on this issue, as generally I don't like government bailouts. However, the fact that so many are ignoring the positive contributions the Big 3 have made, specifically GM as I know them best, is somewhat laughable.

Since you asked us to comment on Mr. Lee's post, I will assume it safe to post a rather blunt and too the point message in which I mean nothing personal against Mr. Lee but since I was asked to comment I will. From his comments it seems to me as if he's a bit of a prima donna that views his degrees from Standford and MIT as excluding him from doing the mindless and mundane tasks the real world is faced with every day. While I would hope that a company could sufficiently engage it's talent, the talent also needs to realize that there's lots of busy work that all of us have to do. His points about union work rules and lack of a sense of urgency are somewhat valid.

I'm just tired of so many ignoring the positive aspects of what the Big 3 are doing...and ignoring facts out there. People talk about restructuring and the UAWs lack of cooperation, and fail to mention the 2 tier wage structure agreed to last contract that brings new employees in at essentially half of what current employees are making and far reduced benefits. They talk of the Big 3 not knowing where the market is and convieniently ignore that Toyota whiffed too in wasting billions of dollars building full-size truck plants in San Antonio, Texas and Princeton, Indiana.

My point isn't to make excuses, and isn't to "endorse" a bailout of the Big 3, but rather try to counter those that continue to act as if there is nothing but clowns and buffoons working at the Big 3. I personally know many that work for these companies, and know them to be as competent of people as I've ever been around. Sure, the Big 3 needs to change the game and every employee needs to now behave as if their job is on the line because it is, but they don't need those that don't really know to continue to paint them with a broad brush.

The American Automotive business is very complex and difficult. Ask anyone who's brazenly tried to come in and try it, thinking about how "easy this must be if those fools in Detroit can do it". Sound familiar, Tesla Motors?


Excellent posts and insightful comments from someone who has experienced it firsthand.

Sadly, these issues are present at all too many American companies. They take different forms, but in the end, innovation is stifled or eradicated. Common sense is in short supply.


When I graduated from Stanford in 1985, one of my friends chose to work as an engineer for one of the Big 3. At the time I thought he was making a bad decision, because even then I thought it was clear that the big American automakers weren't listening to consumers and weren't innovative. They've had over 20 years since then to get with the program, but haven't. I don't have much sympathy for these companies.


I once was in a car with two Ford engineers for 3 hours. We were going to visit a supplier and I was working to try to improve operations at the supplier. The 2 Ford engineers spent the entire trip discussing the political implications of what we were doing and how they could best use it to advance in ford. They were apparently not interested in discussing what I intended to do and whether it would work.

Bob Sutton


I agree that things are that bad in some places, but I guess I am not pessimistic because there are places where it is a lot better -- including, interestingly, the NUMMI plant/company, which is jointly owned by GM and Toyota, and unionized -- and Saturn was pretty good before it was absorbed back into GM.

Alex Rose

This is primarily an American problem with corporate culture developing the way it has. Everything has been dwindled down to the bottom line and process-driven numbers approach so it takes away the "human" element altogether.

Yes, I believe the management is that bad. They've fought every step of the way from the 1970s against improving gas mileage. They fought every bit of the way against the unions, treating them as the enemy instead of someone to work with.

It's a strange thing that companies like Semco in Brazil and Springfield Reman (in MO) embraced open book management back in the 1980s and turned their companies around using collaborative management techniques. Yet most large corps ignore that approach in favor of the outdated top-down approach.

I recommend "The Puritan Gift" for reading. And I think your young Jedi will be disappointed in his career if he continues to work for corporations.

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