I am a third-generation General Motors dealer. My grandfather became a GM dealer in Macon, Ga., in 1918, and the dealership has passed from him to my father to my brother and me during the ensuing 81 years.
Until the last few years, I looked forward to passing the dealership along to my 23-year-old son. Recently, however, I wonder what he is getting into and whether there will even be a General Motors when his time comes.
When I went to work at the dealership, fresh out of the Army in 1968, I assumed that even when GM did something that made no sense at all, it had a master plan that I just didn't understand.
I believed that for maybe 10 years. The last 20, however, I have realized that there is no master plan, and the powers that be don't have a clue.
You're in trouble when you stop caring about your employees, your suppliers, your dealers and your customers and concern yourself only with gross profit and stock values and get in bed with a bunch of stockbrokers who are interested only in short-term gains and will sell you out for a 50-cent-a-share drop.
There's so much wrong with GM, I don't know where to begin. Look at GM's Christmas schedule. My people take Christmas Day off. GM, in addition to holidays I've never heard of, takes three weeks. The assumption is that customers don't have problems over Christmas, and if they do, 'the hell with them; I'm taking my three weeks.' We try to keep cars running during the period with little technical assistance and no parts' orders.
Recently, GM announced that it is doing away with dealer attitude surveys. They are real concerned with how we treat customers, but they don't seem to care about how they treat customers. I guess they no longer have the nerve to send out attitude surveys since they already know the attitude.
They require us to enroll in Standards for Excellence, a program that talks about teamwork, management by consensus and on and on - values to which GM doesn't subscribe.
Our Customer Satisfaction Index is excellent, and my people do a good job of taking care of the customer. GM's is terrible. Standards for Excellence is a new buzzword in the industry. GM should put the Standards for Excellence consultants on round-the-clock duty at GM headquarters, instead of out in the field in the dealerships.
We all know what shape the GM communications system, ACCESS, is in. It's a mess. And the Vehicle Order Management System is a disaster.
Because GM elected to install computers with too little capacity, I spend almost a full day each week handling our orders. We are forced to project 120 days in advance what we are going to need because GM is not willing to do that. When we receive the allocation constraints, we find that we can't even get what we thought we could get 120 days ago.
To change an order is a nightmare; you sit there and watch the computer spin. It takes forever to do what we previously could do in 20 minutes. They've made clerks out of their dealers, leaving little time for sales.
Some dealers are not going to take the time to go through the process; they're simply going to let VOMS generate the orders, and so far, what I've seen VOMS generate is a disaster. When all this stock finally comes in - wrong colors, wrong equipment - the whole process is going to come to a screaming halt.
Recently, I received a 'Dear Dealer' letter from the new powers that be at GM. It started, 'Before we share new information, we would like to quickly review the new organization. The organization was built from the bottom up, starting with customers and dealers.'
That tells it all! The customer and 'customer' dealer should be at the top, not the bottom!
In 1935, my grandfather was a member of the first GM Dealer Council. Alfred P. Sloan Jr. presided. Sloan was a hero in GM. That's what GM needs today - heroes. Bob Coletta at Buick was a hero, but he retired Jan. 1.
I hate to think what Sloan would think of the new GM. When you destroy the divisions, you cut the heart out of GM.
I never thought I would see the day when a requirement for being a top-level GM manager would be that you had no automotive experience. I never thought I would see a bunch of brand managers running GM.
As a dealer whose whole life is invested in GM, I hope the board of directors will wake up, find some leaders like Sloan and put GM back on the right track before it's too late.