By on December 5, 2011

In Once Upon a Car, Bill Vlasic artfully employs quotes gained through over 100 interviews to make readers feel like they’re “in the room.” Assuming that Vlasic has accurately reproduced the original dialogues, we learn how senior executives really talk… (Warning: Graphic language after the jump.)

Jim Farley

On seeing Ford’s historic Highland Park plant. (He hadn’t previously viscerally connected with the domestic industry’s decline:)

“What a fucking mess.”

After moving to Ford and hearing a proposal for an ad campaign:

“What should we say? We’re getting close to Toyota? People don’t believe that shit.”

After the bailouts:

“Fuck GM. I hate them and their company and what they stand for. And I hate the way they’re succeeding. Ford is back because people trust us.”

Steve Feinberg

On his timing with Chrysler:

“We really fucked that up.”

Mark Fields

“Every assignment the [Ford] company gave me was a shitty situation that had to be fixed.”

On returning to take charge of North America, to his executives:

“This has the potential to be a fucking train wreck.”

Bill Ford

After someone suggested he come to the office less often, to give Mulally more space:

“That shit will happen when my name is not on the building.”

Steve Harris

On the lack of a unified manufacturer strategy in Washington:

“This is a shitty game plan.”

Bob Lutz

In a high-level GM strategy session post-Katrina:

“Up until six fucking months ago, people were clamoring for more and more SUVs and we couldn’t even keep up with demand!”

To Rick Wagoner on a potential GM-Chrysler merger:

“Rick, we can pick up all their assets but not the fixed costs. Shit, the first-year synergies alone are like $7 billion.”

On GM’s overly complicated program for grading all of its executives:

“Holy shit…these PMPs are not worth the fucking paper they are written on.”

On GM’s meetings, that Wagoner thrived on:

“arcane, sequential, orderly bullshit.”

On the government task force:

“[They assumed] everything was fucked up. Then the big surprise was how good our manufacturing, design, and engineering really was.”

Sergio Marchionne

First words on meeting Chrysler exec Tom LaSorda:

“I know who the fuck you are. Sit down. Let’s eat.”

On Chrysler:

“You have to be brutally honest with yourself. There’s nothing worse than bullshitting yourself into oblivion.”

To the UAW, during negotiations:

“Do you think I’m fucking stupid? We need to come up with a competitive wage rate and structure here.”

Jim Press

After cattle used to introduce the new Ram pickup started humping each other:

“This is fucking unbelievable. Why in the hell did we do that?”

Jason Vines

On learning that Daimler might sell Chrysler:

“What the fuck?”

On learning that Nardelli wanted to cut his Detroit auto show budget:

“You know what? Go fuck yourself. I’m going to quit. You [Deborah Meyer, marketing exec] and these lackeys like you are what’s wrong with this industry.”

Rick Wagoner

To the press at GM’s Christmas party:

“What do you expect me to say? That I don’t give a shit about [the workers]? That I feel like shit about closing plants? We don’t do this stuff because we like it. You want me to feel bad about it? Well, I feel bad.”

Jerry York

To Kirk Kerkorian, on Ford:

“They are so fucking far ahead of [GM] it’s not funny.”

On GM’s ever-smaller projected savings from an alliance with Renault-Nissan,

“What the fuck is the real number?”

Dieter Zetsche

On Bill Ford:

“He kept telling me how shitty his management team was. I am thinking, why would I want to take the job with this shitty management team?”

During a Chrysler internal product review:

“How shitty this quality is! How can we do work like this?”

After the UAW refuses to make concessions:

“I do not fucking believe this! What do we have to do to get what GM and Ford got? Lose $10 billion?”

After selling Chrysler:

“Of course I feel like shit. But I knew it was the only decision I could make [because of the UAW’s refusal].”

Almost without exception—that exception being ever-upbeat boy scout / Ford CEO Alan Mulally (who actually hugs Bill Ford when they first meet)—executives apparently talk like sailors. Okay, even Mulally. After giving a speech:

“You couldn’t tell that I was scared shitless?”

So it appears that Ed’s proposed movie would get slapped with an R rating if it kept the dialogue real.

Why the lack of creativity? Do auto executives know no expletives other than “fuck,” “shit,” and their most common derivations? Perhaps it’s the lack of name-calling. There are no assholes, bitches, cocks, or dicks (or worse) in the book. The best that Jim Press can work up after his new boss fires him:

“Sergio is truly from hell.”

Perhaps auto executives have all learned to hate the game not the playas?

The larger question: do these words mean anything special anymore? Or in 2011 would it be more noteworthy (and indicative of bowdlerization by the author) if the book’s quotations did not frequently include such words? Does their inclusion do anything more than provide evidence that the quotations are authentic?

 

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33 Comments on “The BLEEPING Best BLEEP Quotes From Our BLEEPING Auto Execs (NSFW, May Trigger Obscenity Filter)...”


  • avatar
    jgustafson21

    Apparently we can solve income equality if we make America’s executives contribute to a public swear jar.

  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    No shit, this was the best fucking review I’ve ever read on TTAC.

  • avatar
    Ingvar

    Execs are bullies, through and through. Management by fear. The wordings are just a means to an end, and that is to instill fear in the workforce. It’s also effective, because people simply don’t expect to be talked to and about in that way on that level. If a CEO talks to you that way, you have no way of talking back, so it’s just a simple way to get the last word. This is simply trolling on the highest level.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    NSFW image leading this story and on your home page. I hopped on at lunch to check – coworker of course walked in just as page loaded.

    Suggest a toned down graphic, this ain’t Jalopnik.

  • avatar
    The Doctor

    Not so much Deadwood as dead wood.

  • avatar

    >>>Do auto executives know no expletives other than “fuck,” “shit,” and their most common derivations?

    I was going to say maybe these are simply the only ones Vlasik quoted, but I’m inclined to think that Ingvar is probably correct

  • avatar
    Jerith

    My guess is that most CEOs and other top officials are technically functioning psychopaths. No shame for that -climb- to the top. Lack of empathy. Slick and charming as they -function- as a normal person but have their own interests in mind with no consideration. Will have no reservations to rip off a friend of yours even though each met each other through you. They will try to control a work environment through a facade of charm or fear.

    +1 Gold Star for Bob the Angry Flower.

    • 0 avatar
      kvndoom

      You just watched “Horrible Bosses” too, eh? :)

    • 0 avatar
      GS650G

      Most of these guys are unrepentant narcissists who are masters at sucking the life out of everyone around them. Just like politicians. Tell them that they don’t give a fuck about people and they will thank you for noticing.

    • 0 avatar
      nrd515

      There is definitely something going on with many of them, I don’t know what it is exactly, but many of them seem to be living on another planet, where the sun revolves around them, and everything they say has some deep meaning. I worked at the HQ of a Fortune 500 company for 6 years, and the stuff the big shots said and did floored me. They spent money on totally nonsensical trips and brought in “rah-rah people” (motivational speaker types)at huge expense, and about all the employees got out of it was a free book and a lot of eyeball rolling exercise. One golf trip that cost tens of thousands of $$$, when they were laying off people, caused a huge amount tension after someone copied the expense reports and pasted them all over the building. That trip alone would have paid the salaries and benefits of two lower level people. Then there was the perfectly good stuff they tossed into the trash. I finally just used up the last of the paper I got out of the dumpster in 1999! And I gave half of it away! My Grand Cherokee was almost scraping the rear end on the ground from all the weight of those reams of paper! I only got about half of it out, the rest was wet or had come open and was loose, so I passed on it.

  • avatar
    LeeK

    I’ve worked in the computer industry for thirty years. It isn’t any different there either. Steve Jobs’ profanity laced tirades being the norm. I suspect it’s true in just about all industries where powerful men and women congregate.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      It’s no different in other disciplines or business environments.

      I have been a member of the Senior Corps Of Retired Executives (SCORE) for decades and some of the heated discussions behind closed doors include such language, and even worse.

      When I sat on the Board of a Commerce Bank until recently, language like this was often used in heated discussion behind closed doors. Some of the lady board members even accused other male members of prematurely shooting their wads when loans or investments went sour. That’s cutting a man down to size. (No pun intended)

      And when my brothers and their partners were still in the new-car selling business, the worst offenders of raw language were the lady-lawyer/partner and the male CPA/partner of the business, usually at each other’s throats over money.

      As is often the case, the bean-counters put on the spending brakes while the attorney is hoping to speed up the legal process by selectively spending more money on targeted objectives and goals.

      As a matter of fact, even at my advanced age I have learned new, colorful language and words not often heard or read anywhere’s else but in the Board Room. Go figure! A lady lawyer acting like an *ssb*tch! You can’t take it seriously.

      So this doesn’t surprise me. Often you need colorful language to get your point across. As is often the case with analysts, I have been the target of such colorful language aimed at my analysis or presentation. I wasn’t offended.

      People can agree with what I have to say, or not. Money talks. BS walks. And more often than not, when the facts bore me out, my analysis proved to be correct, and all the ranting and raging on the part of others proved to be ineffective.

      No doubt the CEOs using this colorful language understood their position in life. Maybe that’s why they’re at the top.

  • avatar
    Ooshley

    I always puzzle over how uptight you yanks are regarding swearing, not to mention drugs and sex/nudity, but hardcore violence is A-OK.

    There is really only one truly taboo word left in Australian society, it begins with a ‘C’, all the rest are regularly dropped in casual (if not polite) conversation with only the elderly and/or precious raising eyebrows. They can be said on radio at any time of the day although a lot of stations try not to.

    As the graphic says, they’re just words, if they’re not directed at someone in a verbally hostile manner I don’t see the harm.

    • 0 avatar

      I also puzzle about how uptight we are on drugs and sex and not violence. There is a benefit to having taboo cuss words, though. Scientific studies show that people get pain relief from saying such words when they hurt themselves. You Aussies probably miss out on this benefit. My guess is our CEOs who use them all the time probably do as well.

      My favorite comment is Sergio Marchionne’s to Jim press about the copulating bovines.

    • 0 avatar
      Neb

      I see the profanity as a sign of honesty more than anything. It’s not some carefully crafted statement for the press, it’s what they actually think.

    • 0 avatar

      The C word is taboo, particularly if someone with a Y chromosome says it. I’ll agree that it’s kind of an ugly word and not very sexy, so I make sure that I when I use it, I’m deliberately trying to offend. The look of shock on their faces is priceless.

  • avatar

    On seeing Ford’s historic Highland Park plant. (He hadn’t previously viscerally connected with the domestic industry’s decline:)

    Farley needs to read some history. The Highland Park plant has nothing to do with the domestic industry’s decline. That plant was where the automotive assembly line was perfected and it built Model Ts and Model As. This video shows them tearing down most of the plant in 1959, a time when the domestic auto industry was at its strongest. The old Packard plant also has nothing to do with the decline of GM, Ford & Chrysler half a century after Packard went out of business.

    [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XpTcUrozfaY&w=480&h=360]

    If Farley wants to see more recent signs of the industry’s decline, he can go south on Woodward down to Grand Blvd. and check out the area south of East Grand Blvd. and east of Woodward. It’s called the Milwaukee Junction area and there are large, empty Fisher Body plants there as well as a number of other abandoned factory sites.

    If you look up old Detroit auto factories, you’ll find out that some of the buildings haven’t housed an automotive company in 70 or 80 years. There’s a hummous factory where Graham Paige cars used to be assembled. Who remembers Graham Paige (I love the look of the sharknose cars from the late ’30s)? This building in Detroit that was Hudson’s original factory (and Aerocar’s before that) still stands but they haven’t built any cars there in a century:

    http://detroit1701.org/Aerocar-Hudson.html

    Surprisingly, though, a sizable fraction of the historic sites that I’ve checked out are still in use. The Russell Industrial Center is still occupied and they were building Detroit Electrics there a century ago. A number of those buildings are still even used by companies in the automotive sector. Across the street from Russell is the building where Ray Dietrich built LeBaron bodies. It’s still occupied and in the metal forming business.

  • avatar
    NTI 987

    That’s nothing. You should hear the way car dealers talk.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    Many good ones there, but I like Bill Ford’s quote the best.

    He knew enough to hire Alan Mulally to take his own job, but he also knew enough to not walk away from the business. Great wisdom in that.

  • avatar
    mikey

    Spend some time on the loading dock in a “just in time” system. I had a female director of material control,have a complete meltdown cause we were slow unloading a trailer. The language was colorfull,to say the least.

    We got the truck unloaded and delivered to the line, without any downtime.

    The next day she sprung for Pizza’s and apoligized for not bringing beer.

    Its all in a day at work. If somebody gets offended, thier in the wrong line of work.

  • avatar
    Loser

    So these guys talk like everyone else in the real world, shocking.
    Thirty years ago you never heard anyone drop an f bomb in public, now it seems commonplace.

  • avatar
    Neb

    “What do you expect me to say? That I don’t give a shit about [the workers]? That I feel like shit about closing plants? We don’t do this stuff because we like it. You want me to feel bad about it? Well, I feel bad.”

    That’s one hell of a Christmas party.

  • avatar

    Bill Ford

    After someone suggested he come to the office less often, to give Mulally more space:

    “That sh!t will happen when my name is not on the building.”

    He was paraphrasing his uncle The Deuce.

  • avatar

    Bill Ford

    After someone suggested he come to the office less often, to give Mulally more space:

    “That sh!t will happen when my name is not on the building.”

    He was paraphrasing his uncle The Deuce.

  • avatar
    GS650G

    These guys make cars, not serve communion. At least we know they connect with the line workers on some level.

  • avatar
    Motorhead10

    So this one time…in band camp.
    Anyway, some time ago I’m doing a live-to-tape spot for CNBC – probably something about GM earnings or monthly sales – whatever. I’m in the little booth (and I mean little, like 5×9) at the NYSE and one of the female anchors is preparing her report off camera while I’m taping my thing with the transportation-guy-reporter. So after I finish the female anchor strikes up a conversation with me – Seriously, I have never heard such language – and I was a college athlete – I’ve been in my share of locker rooms. First I’m thinking “I just met you…” I was doing my best “on camera” face to hide my “holy shit, what language!” face. Then I’m thinking, “how the fuck does control that on camera?” I guess that’s what being a pro is all about.

  • avatar
    Boff

    The quotations are very mild. Just those words themselves, used as they are here as mere tools of emphasis, don’t have much impact anymore in most company. It is only when you use them to assemble vivid scatalogical or carnal metaphors that things get interesting/offensive.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ifjMgEWDoWQ&w=420&h=315]

  • avatar
    Junebug

    Ya’ll should work on the floor for a while or in the warehouse, my vocab went down to 15 words to communicate.


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