DETROIT - It will be at least another 25 to 30 years before someone other than a white male will be president or chairman of General Motors.
That prediction was made by Bill Brooks, who is retiring from GM as vice president of corporate affairs on Thursday, July 31.
One of Brooks' key responsibilities at GM was to engineer a diversity program to pave the way for all GM employees to feel fully part of the team.
He believes the most likely candidate for a person other than a white male to make it to the top spots at GM is probably a man of color in his 20s. He thinks women of any color have an even longer wait.
'It is no accident when people make it to the top,' Brooks said. 'Somebody is watching them and working with them. It was my job to make sure that happens to women and minorities.'
GM currently has four black male vice presidents and two female vice presidents.
The black male vice presidents, all over age 40, won't likely make it, Brooks said. He said younger men of color in their 20s or 30s have more time to be properly mentored.
WOMEN LACK EXPERIENCE
He said there are few women with a broad range of experience.
'I just believe that you're not going to have a critical mass of women for some time,' Brooks said. 'Women have got to be mentored, but it's hard in these days of sexual harassment.'
Brooks began his GM career in 1973, and left in 1989 to serve as assistant secretary of labor for the Employment Standards Administration.
He returned in 1990, at the urging of Chairman Robert Stempel, to help the company increase the number of women in truck engineering and design.
He was named vice president of community affairs in 1994. In addition to integrating truck operations, he said his achievements at GM include:
Getting rid of the Urban Affairs department in 1994 - a department that managed a small philanthropic budget, primarily for blacks and Hispanics.
'I thought African Americans should be included in the whole pie,' he said. As a result, blacks got 22 percent of the $32.9 million that was given by the GM fund last year. He didn't have a figure from prior years. But he said the Urban Affairs budget was 'much, much smaller.'
Negotiating a deal with the president of the African nation of Namibia this year, resulting in the first time sale of 800 trucks to that country.
Boosting loans to minority businesses as president of Motor Enterprises Inc., a GM subsidiary that specializes in giving loans to small minority businesses. Maximum loans to an individual business grew from $40,000 to $900,000 last year under his watch.
'As years go by, there will come a time when white men will be in the minority at these companies,' Brooks said. 'For us, managing diversity is not just a social, legal or moral issue. It's a business imperative.'
CHANGING WORK FORCE
According to Brooks, the older work force at GM now is monopolized by white males. White males make up 77.5 percent of those aged 55 and over. But white males make up only 56.8 percent of the work force in the 25-to-29 age group and 44.3 percent of GM workers under age 25.
'The demographics of this work force is changing right before your very eyes,' Brooks said. 'How will (white men) be able to justify being in control when they're in the minority?'
On a scale of 1 to 100, Brooks said he gives GM senior management a 50 in its diversity efforts when compared to other companies and agencies the company benchmarks.
He says the military has done the best job of creating diversity at the higher levels.
'GM has done a very good job getting people in, but we haven't done a very good job in getting them to the upper ranks,' he said.
And he says the job won't get any easier.
'The people up high understand this business issue of diversity,' Brooks said. 'But as you start moving down - middle management can't understand that this is a business issue. They just look at blacks and women as competition.'
A MAJOR MARKET
Brooks said African Americans had spending power of $324 billion last year, higher than the gross national product of several countries, including Australia, Argentina and Switzerland.
'So we've got to pay a lot of attention to that market,' he said. 'I clearly believe that how people feel about your company is how they spend their money.'
As for why the Japanese car companies, whose managements are not diverse, do well in this market, Brooks said: 'I can't understand it, but my intuition tells me that if people think a company is doing the right thing, they will buy their products.'
Brooks said the time was right for him to become an entrepreneur. He will join Entech HR Consulting Services, a professional employment service in Troy, Mich., as chairman and partner on Friday, Aug. 1.
He is also a partner in a business venture to operate a casino in Detroit.
Looking back at his GM tenure, he believes GM is sincere about its diversity program.
'(Chairman) Jack Smith and (Vice Chairman) Harry Pearce have never said no to me on anything,' he said. 'What I have not achieved here is my fault.
'I take responsibility because I either didn't push hard enough or I wasn't creative enough. It certainly wasn't because I didn't get support.'