These business failures were a long time coming, and had many sources contributing to the problem.
Bob Lutz (aka "Maximum Bob") retired from GM last year, after ramming the electric Chevy Volt into production, and then wrote a book about the car biz, "Car Guys versus Bean Counters" (Portfolio Penguin, $26.95). Neil Winton is a long-time automotive journalist, with the Detroit News, and has an interesting review, "Lutz says business theorists hurt auto industry more than UAW". Yup, it takes an MBA to create that kind of destruction.
Lutz reckons that his experience is not just applicable to the automotive industry, but to business generally. Originally with Ford of Europe (actually not one of his successes), Bob moved on to Chrysler, and GM in North America. A real "car guy", not to be confused with "Minimum Bob" Nardelli, the incompetent former CEO of Home Depot, who, after trashing that outfit, was appointed CEO of Chrysler by its new owner, the clueless finance outfit, Cerberus Capital Management, who bought Chrysler from Mercedes and proceeded to self-immolate.
"Shoemakers should be run by shoe guys and software firms by software guys and supermarkets by supermarket guys. With the advice and support of their bean counters, absolutely, but with the final word going to those who live and breathe the customer experience. Passion and drive for excellence will win over the computer-like dispassionate, analysis-driven philosophy every time," Lutz said.
"(Successful entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs of Apple and Britain's Sir Richard Branson) have a blissful lack of awareness of the analytical science of business. Uninfected by the MBA virus, they simply strive to offer a better product, one that delights the customer. They control costs, of course. And they tolerate a necessary level of bureaucracy. It's essential. But the focus is on the product or service ... thus the customer. American business needs to throw the intellectuals out and get back to business!"
He can't resist repeating an apocryphal story which pointed to a lack of quality in GM cars compared with the Japanese.
The Japanese had a reputation for producing incredibly tight fits in their bodywork, with no unsightly gaps around hood, trunk and doors. To test the car's air tightness, Toyota engineers would leave a cat in the car overnight.
"If the cat was active and chipper next day, there was obviously too much air entering the car somewhere. But if the cat was limp, listless or near dead, this indicated a tightly built car. Hearing of this test, a GM assembly plant also placed a feline in a just assembled car, shut all the vents and doors and awaited the morning. But when the engineers came back to check the next day the cat was gone!"