Rattner's book suggests nobody gets it

The buzz of the coming weeks is going to be what the federally appointed car czar Steve Rattner reveals in his new book: that he offered the job of General Motors CEO to Nissan/Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn -- and that Ghosn had the temerity to turn it down.

Some buzzers are going to conclude: Boy, that Ghosn doesn't get it. He turned down a mighty kingdom to keep his little princedom.

Others are going to conclude: Man, that GM crowd just doesn't get it. Poor old Rattner had to go recruiting in Paris to find somebody with a fresh enough outlook to run GM.

And still others will conclude: Wow, that Obama Administration just doesn't get it. How could they possibly think a non-Detroiter -- a foreigner, for heaven's sake -- could ever fix GM?

My two cents: nobody's getting it.

Of course Rattner would offer the job to Ghosn. There are only two automotive CEOs in the world with a track record of successfully turning around a large, full-line struggling automaker. Ghosn is one. The other guy had a bid in on Chrysler.

But the real buzz should be about what happened after Ghosn turned down the job. According to Rattner's book, Ghosn instead urged Rattner to consider ushering GM into the Renault-Nissan Alliance. That's not startling news. Ghosn personally urged then-CEO Rick Wagoner to do the same thing back in 2006.

What's startling is that, even in the midst of GM's apocalypse, as the entire globe fretted over the very real scenario that GM was about to cease to exist, a smaller competitor had the faith to suggest that GM would not only survive, but could become a valuable partner to his own Franco-Japanese enterprise.

As an independent corporation, no less.

Ghosn didn't walk in with a checkbook attempting to buy GM at a fire sale. He went in with the message that GM, though down on its knees at the moment, had the stuff to rise up again and fix its problems and become a powerful, valuable, profitable participant in Ghosn's cooperative approach to future vehicles, components, engineering, technology and marketing muscle.

Ghosn was basically saying to Rattner, “I don't want to possess GM. I want to benefit from its strengths.”

Now that's what the buzz should be about.

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