FORD'S METAPHOR vs. JAPAN and the GM Reality with the Electric Car-and a simple explanation for BAD BANKS AND BUSINESSES in the US-and Elsewhere
By Kevin Stoda, Witness to "Driven to Mediocrity", the American Tale
For some time, I have been observing tales like the following floating around the internet. The business lesson is ostensibly about the Ford Corporation, but, as far as I am concerned, it could just as well be about General Motors--or Citicorp or Bush & Co. (2001-2009).
In the Ford story known as "Business Lesson from the Japanese," Ford management is used as a metaphor for the worst aspects of the anti-labor, and anti-developmental approach (of the worst corners) of the American leadership and corporate mismanagement business model of the 20th and 19th centuries.
BUSINESS LESSON FROM THE JAPANESE
Here is the famous business metaphor with Ford.
"A Japanese company (Toyota) and an American company (Ford Motors) decided to have a canoe race on the Missouri River. Both teams practiced long and hard to reach their peak performance before the race.
On the big day, the Japanese won by a mile.
The Americans, very discouraged and depressed, decided to investigate the reason for the crushing defeat. A management team made up of senior management was formed to investigate and recommend appropriate action. Their conclusion was the Japanese had 8 people rowing and 1 person steering, while the American team had 7 people steering and 2 people rowing.
Feeling a deeper study was in order; American management hired a consulting company and paid them a large amount of money for a second opinion. They advised, of course, that too many people were steering the boat, while not enough people were rowing. Not sure of how to utilize that information, but wanting to prevent another loss to the Japanese, the rowing team's management structure was totally reorganized to 4 steering supervisors, 2 area steering superintendents and 1 assistant superintendent steering manager.
They also implemented a new performance system that would give the 2 people rowing the boat greater incentive to work harder. It was called the 'Rowing Team Quality First Program,' with meetings, dinners and free pens for the rowers. There was discussion of getting new paddles, canoes and other equipment, extra vacation days for practices and bonuses. The pension program was trimmed to 'equal the competition' and some of the resultant savings were channeled into morale boosting programs and teamwork posters.
The next year the Japanese won by two miles. Humiliated, the American management laid-off one rower, halted development of a new canoe, sold all the paddles, and canceled all capital investments for new equipment. The money saved was distributed to the Senior Executives as bonuses. The next year, try as he might, the lone designated rower was unable to even finish the race (having no paddles,) so he was laid off for unacceptable performance, all canoe equipment was sold and the next year's racing team was out-sourced to India.
Sadly, the End."
WHO DESTROYED GM'S ELECTRIC CAR IN THE 1980S?
Although the story about Ford vs. Japan (and Toyota and Japan Co.) provides a good metaphor, General Motors (plus Ford Chrysler and Exxon) actually did set out to destroy America's share of the electronic car market. Therefore, the story of Ford and Japan can be retold in America with numerous faces-representing Enron, Worldcom, Citicorp, and many financial service groups.
This General Motors story has been best described in the 2006 award-winning documentary film, Who Killed the Electric Car? by Chris Paine. The Japanese owned-Sony movies' blurb on Rotten Tomatoes states of both this film and of the EV1 car that GM either let die off or intentionally killed off America's first mass-produced electronic car in the 1990s. Sony states: