General Motors Death Watch 95: Dear John
According to the highly credible “Ford and GM set to merge” journalists over at Automotive News, The General has agreed to pay bankrupt parts supplier Delphi’s remaining union workers an unspecified amount of money for an unspecified amount of time to avoid a planet-killing strike. Yes, it’s The Mother of All Extortion Pay-Offs– providing you don’t count that huge pile of money GM’s already agreed to pay twenty thousand not-so-dearly departed members of the United Auto Workers (UAW) who labored on behalf of Delphi. And here’s the funny part: that’s the good news.
As always, you gotta read the fine print. As part of this deal, Delphi will renegotiate or dump 5,472 unprofitable GM parts contracts. Let’s be clear: by “renegotiate” I mean Delphi got GM to lock-in the contracts the parts maker wants to keep, at a price that will earn them cash money. So there’ll be no more of that margin squeezing routine GM’s been using to torture its other parts suppliers. So Delphi can now afford to pay the base salaries of those UAW employeees that GM didn’t pay to leave, whose paychecks GM is about to top up so they don’t go on strike and kill GM. So it’s win, win, lose. The General's cash flow takes another massive hit and everyone goes back to the business of pretending the next group of vehicles down the line will pay for, well, everything.
Let's get to the really exciting stuff: the looming proxy fight between investor Kirk “The Las Vegas Lion” Kerkorian and GM CEO "Red Ink Rick" Wagoner. The way the Institute of Shareholder Services (ISS) sees it, Kirk stooge Jerry York’s recent resignation from GM’s Board of Bystanders was the first step in his any-day-now nonagenarian boss’s plan to stir up a shareholder’s revolt. For those of us who can’t tell a rabid dog when they see one buying 9.9 percent of the world’s largest automaker, the ISS took a look at York’s resignation and decided them’s fightin’ words!
To paraphrase the document in question, things suck at GM and they might not get any better. And then… “But frankly, to get to the crux of the matter, I have not found an environment in the board room that is very receptive to probing much beyond the materials provided by management (and too often, at least in my experience, materials are not sent to the board ahead of time to allow study prior to board discussion).” Well now we know. GM’s Board of Bystanders is a board of bystanders who take Rabid Rick Wagoner’s assurances at face value and don’t mind if those assurances aren’t in writing, or, if they are, that they arrive too late to read and digest. Who’d a thunk it?
Only anyone who’s been watching The General’s market share sink like a stone thrown into a deep, dark, well. Mr. York’s description of GM’s most excellent rubber stampers shouldn’t come as any surprise to readers of this series, nor should York’s terse description of GM’s chances. York’s letter adds GM’s negative market share with its negative cash flow to come to a negative conclusion: “I have grave reservations concerning the ability of the company’s current business model to successfully compete in the marketplace with those of the Asian producers." Join the club.
Of course, Jerry's in Kirk's gang. Which makes his final parting words especially ironic: “I will shortly make arrangements to return the confidential company materials in my possession to the Corporate Secretary’s office.” This from the board member who swore to the SEC that he won’t reveal inside information to any third party, then jets off to France to meet with Nissan Prez Carlos Ghosn to offer him the keys to the GM castle on behalf of The General’s largest stockholder and chief boardroom protagonist. Does anyone seriously think Mr. York didn’t use his time in GM’s inner sanctum to gather-up enough damning evidence of management incompetence to convince outside investors to decapitate the capo di tutti capo?
Like I said, this is going to get ugly. And so it should. It’s hard to believe that the man who lost GM more than a dollar per person on planet earth and prestiged GM’s amazing shrinking market share is still large and in charge over at The General’s tower of power. The battle for control of GM is a yin yang thang– only there isn’t any yin. In fact, everyone who wields power in this sad saga of missed opportunity and unbridled greed is their own evil triplet; Kirk Kerkorian, Rick Wagoner and union boss Ron Gettelfinger are all as bad as each other.
The conflict between these three forces will eventually reveal the exact nature of their pernicious perfidy– at least to us. For them, it’ll be last man standing. Whoever wins will oversee a kingdom of sand, washed flat by an tide that’s been forty years in the making.
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