By on December 15, 2008

Another email from a GM insider: “Meet Rick, unassuming book worm with a penchant of fixing all things mechanical. Rick was a 12 year veteran of GM, spending 7 years as a journeyman Machine repairman. Due to a constantly shrinking work force, Rick soon had to relocate. Luckily, Rick’s first transfer kept him in his skilled trade and fortunately keep another well rounded expert in mechanical issues with the Corporation. Rick was content with the move but according to him ‘I wouldn’t wish that shit on anyone.’ Little did Rick know that the plant he just re-located to was soon announced that within 8 months it would cease production. Left with the option of hoping like hell another plant needed manpower or immerse himself in the job market, OL’ Rick again rented a U-Haul. It was in October 2003 that I had meet Rick. It still leaves me missing his daily ‘Hey dude, if its done this way, shit would be better’ remarks.

Rick backed up said statements through the bureaucratic hell we inside the Beast refer to as The SUGGESTION PLAN network. Its a spin on what the foreign transplant facilities had been doing for years. Its really a great way to filter ideas on manufacturing cost savings and throughput, quality and all the other things that brings together a sense in ownership among the workforce. Only problem with this idea is the amount of crap that clogs the filter.

Case in point: one suggestion to repaint aisle way lines with corresponding dates rewarded the suggestor a $650 advancement on his check.

Rick’s suggestion relied more on his knack for watching the habits of mechanisms around him. Our own little Goodwill Hunting of the Industrial world placed a suggestion that saved scrap cost an amazing $112,000 in a calendar year. Rick’s reward? An umbrella and an entry into the plants Holiday raffle.

So what you say? He should have done this because he works for GM,right! He already draws a good living and should support the cause. Problem is, Rick agreed. It’s job security. It’s a reduction in waste and another fine effort in reduction of expenditures.

The Suggestions that employees enter have to be approved by management. Once approved the suggestion then enters the realm of applicability. This is a dangerous realm. Chock full of wicked nay-sayers. Self righteous middle and upper management that wallow in laziness. To implement is to do, to do is to work and surely they have to much on their platter to investigate a suggestion.

Rick’s suggestion would change tooling on many of the robots in his area, robots that moved parts of the sub-assembly from station to station. Occasional ”mis-grips” caused some components to slip and fall to the floor. After a cleaning of the area, any part that was malformed from the ”mis-grip” was shit-canned.

Rick attended team meetings and explained his suggestion to no avail. He stopped the plant manager, again to no avail. Rick went as far as to draft the sequence in which the tooling could be placed and explained that to reconfigure the tooling could take place in under 3 hours. One wall after another was what Rick ran into. Not to be discouraged, Rick continued to enter suggestions, sometimes he would go into other departments of the plant to seek out inefficiencies. Then one day his reply came back: implementation on tooling change cannot be accepted.

Rick retreated to his readings of spacial relations, particularly anything Hawkin. He was fond of saying that the book “A brief history of Time” was the idiot’s guide to feeling like an idiot. Always sticking to the unassuming role, Rick would confide in me how much he enjoyed making cars and doing it with GM. We could build an untouchable car if we wanted to. WE can design better than the japs. WE can do this and that.

It was then that I realized Rick was constantly thinking about the manufacturing of vehicles. All the while time was running out on Rick’s suggestion. Time limits are a bitch you know.

Over a year had passed and Rick’s suggestion was null and void. During a plant tour with executives from Corporate, a business unit superintendent SUGGESTED tooling changes would be implemented to reduce (get this shit) INCIDENTAL PART MALFORMITIES.

The evil empire won again.

When the presentation took place on this item the question was asked by one of the head honcho’s “Who came up with this idea?” Myself, replied the Super, along with help from our plants Millwright supervisor. I attended this meeting and spoke up on the behalf of Rick.This suggestion was turned in a year ago and credit should go to the proper employee. No such luck.

Returning to the area I went straight to Rick and explained what had taken place. He shrugged his shoulders and said “they can have it.” He had just signed the special attrition package. 12 years of service, 3 plants, numerous damn good ideas and the never ending “Rick Quest”of finding a better way to do things. $91,000 after taxes to leave it all behind.

The day he left we bid each other fare well and the promise to keep in contact. Before he left Rick could not find the Superintendent that cut him out. So he left his umbrella and a note simply saying “good luck.”

Rick is now employed at a foreign owned exhaust parts maker plant that services both GM and Honda. As a supervisor himself now, he has commented on the freedom of making changes regarding reducing anything redundant or wasteful. Sometimes these ideas work sometimes they dont.

But its the idea that these ideas are at least investigated that is the most reassuring.

The last conversation that Rick and I had regarded the Bridge loans, bail outs, whichever you like to call them.Though were separated by companies, our economic fate is intertwined. He’s remarked that his company cannot survive with the volume of only supplying Honda. It reminds me of what Rick said to me before he left GM. “Go on take the money and RUN.”

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33 Comments on “Inside GM: “Go on take the money and RUN”...”


  • avatar
    baaron

    Fascinating story. It gives the public a valuable perspective on GM’s business strategies and employee relations.

    However, some editing to increase readability would be nice.

  • avatar

    baaron:

    Formatting probs. My bad. Sorted. But I left the email largely unedited because, after all, this is someone’s story.

  • avatar
    Austin Greene

    A classic story of working inside a large bureaucracy.

    As someone who also does I recognize the group think that penetrates the many layers of organizational supervision. All these managers were born and raised within the bureaucracy – and learned how to do it the right way. These new and novel ideas just wont work, because they didn’t come up from within the hierarchical machine.

    A sure sign of doom.

    I like GM cars, and am a shareholder, but this story is telling that the culture is rejecting creativity and good ideas in favour of doing it the old familiar way.

    At least it’s myopic behaviour – not criminal as with so many other American enterprises.

    Time to go nuclear and reboot.

  • avatar
    NickR

    He should have put that umbrella somewhere else.

  • avatar
    porschespeed

    The company obviously lost out on the potential efficiency gains – but hey, SOP for poorly run big companies. Happens every day, across every sector.

    Anyone shocked or surprised by this example knows nothing about how big business generally fails itself.

    As for Rick, he got ignored and then his idea got stolen (more than likely) so someone higher up the food chain could take credit. Not right, not fair, but it is (sadly) how the game is played.

    I’m gonna go puke at the less than subtle suggestion that anyone should feel sorry for him in any way though. He was paid a ton of money with over-the-top benefits to perform a very low skill job. Then he got $91K AFTER taxes to leave.

    Did the company screw itself by ignoring him? Yup.

    Did he get his in the end? By an order of magnitude.

  • avatar
    IOtheworldaliving

    Where was Rick’s supervisor in all this? He did have to sign off on the suggestion; apparently he didn’t care enough to promote it for him or defend him against the super who got all the credit.

    He’s the one who should get the nasty part of that umbrella. I’m glad Rick got out and got a better job.

  • avatar
    IOtheworldaliving

    @porschespeed: I’m gonna go puke at the less than subtle suggestion that anyone should feel sorry for him in any way though. He was paid a ton of money with over-the-top benefits to perform a very low skill job. Then he got $91K AFTER taxes to leave.

    What are you referring to here? Too subtle for me, I guess.

    Machine repair is low-skill?

  • avatar
    Captain Tungsten

    I hope people that follow the “Inside GM” series realize a couple things:

    1. There is a reason hearsay isn’t admissible as evidence in a court of law. Why should we believe “Rick”? (interesting choice of name…)

    2. You can find disgruntled employees at any place of business. Stories like these are not unique to GM, or even the Detroit automakers.

  • avatar
    Holden

    The sad thing is, that the suggestion plan they speak of is in place in Aus as well. It is only open to full time employees. So when, about 18 months ago, I suggested we implement new tooling on the clay mills, went out and sourced it and got it tested and approved. The new tooling lasted longer, gave a better finish and cost the same as the old stuff. On top of that it was from a local supplier, rather than overseas, so you got a lot better service and delivery times.
    I got nothing because I’m a contractor.
    As soon as I moved from the Design department to Engineering, there was no one to follow up the tooling stuff, so they went back to the old shit they were using.
    Unbelievable!
    Just in case anyone is interested the supplier is Metal Cutting Technology, so Ford and Toyota – maybe give them a call.

  • avatar
    IOtheworldaliving

    @ Captain Tungsten:

    1. Why make it up?

    2. Sure, but they’re common in highly dysfunctional organizations, and not in ones that are not demanding public welfare.

  • avatar
    Qwerty

    1. There is a reason hearsay isn’t admissible as evidence in a court of law. Why should we believe “Rick”? (interesting choice of name…)

    This is a crap argument. You are not trusting “Rick.” You are trusting Farago as a reporter.

    A free press requires anonymous sources. Without them a lot of information would never see the light of day.

  • avatar

    @Captain Tungsten: Severability, NSFW. One does not cancel all.

    Just b/c there has been min. 1 disgruntled empl in the the history of the world Does Not Invalidate EVERY STORY!!!! )(#*$^(*!^%@#(*$R&_(!!!

    Viz GM, I am inclined to believe Rick.

    Too bad Rick didn’t get enough certs to be a Process Engineer of sorts, he could probably make 100’s of ks just Kaizen-ing the Flows of every business in the world, esp. as a Consultant.

    And $91k After taxes is not bad. $11k is what he should’ve been bonused for the savings.

    Wrong company, wrong industry for a flexible, observant thinker like this guy.

    Middle Management in general is one big bag of Suck. Crank-turning, Volvo-driving, check-cashing Frauds, almost all of them.

  • avatar
    porschespeed

    Machine repair is low-skill?

    To be fair, not low-skill in the ‘mowing grass’ way.

    It’s a trade. Being a mechanic in a private garage where the collection only changes every few years. There is a skill-set to acquire, but save for the electronics in robotics, it’s straightforward simple mechanics.

    Not ripping on the person at all, he did the right thing. Sadly, for the company, and himself he was not rewarded. On of the prevalent problems with a lot of US corporate culture. One of the reasons our economy is where it is (lotsa others, we all know)

    But every time I read one of these stories, there’s always that “gosh, he had to move for his job” or some other such crap. Be real. The real working world deals with this stuff every day for less money/benes/gold-plated-goaways.

    If they can get it. Great. But the undercurrent that some how these guys are more entitled to it than others who work for a living is just plain wrong.

  • avatar
    holydonut

    Robert, would you ever publish a letter bashing a random worker (or group of line-workers) for being lazy and incompetent at their task? I know some line supervisors that tell some great stories of the “Volvo-driving-crowd” having their lug nuts on their wheels loosened or getting stabbed. But these are isolated examples – most of the stories just involve people doing really shoddy work (or no work at all). Of course, for each of these stories there is one that shows how the bourgeoisie manager is equally worthless.

    By the way, the white collar and blue collar workers at the domestics are in severely adversarial relationships. You have sob-stories on both sides that are used to rationalize how each other suck. To hear them speak of each other would make a normal person wonder why we haven’t seen large-scale riots in some of the plants. But if you’re viewing it from the outside – it’s disgusting. The playground crybaby attitude persists and you have entire groups of people validating their behavior based on the moral flaws of their adversaries.

    Is there any question why these companies are unable to succeed regarding their ability to manufacture vehicles? The companies dislike the workers and the workers dislike the company.

  • avatar

    Machine repair is low-skill?

    It depends who they work for. If they work for GM, they must have the stench of the UAW about them and can only be lazy, featherbedding, layabouts. If they work for Honda, they will be seen as valuable employees who contribute to this country’s GDP.

  • avatar
    GS650G

    This story just goes to show how important it is for clever people to work for themselves

  • avatar

    holydonut :

    Yes I would.

    Like the proverbial blind men, we all perceive the proverbial elephant in different ways. But if we share our perspectives, we all get a better picture of the beast’s “true” nature.

    At least that’s the theory…

  • avatar
    Chris Inns

    He was paid a ton of money with over-the-top benefits to perform a very low skill job.

    Err, I certainly wouldn’t describe “Rick”‘s job as a “very low skill” one. Seems Rick’s job actually requires a decent skill set.

  • avatar
    holydonut

    RF: Unfortunately it usually just degrades into an accusatory bitch-fest as people finger point in order to answer their own problems. I’ve yet to see an instance where things were constructive when people tell anecdotes about the management/worker relationship.

    I think the most disheartening thing is that most people form a very strong belief either supporting the blue-collar attitude or the management attitude. These notions are hard to shake, so they push forward in a stubborn manner attempting to maintain their beliefs. Usually this is done by degrading the opposing group. And then they attempt to pass these set of beliefs to their kids.

    So rather than having managers/workers in a cooperative setting, it’s usually destructive and non-productive. These undertones remain silent only when the business is very profitable and everybody is making money. When their calm is dashed, the finger pointing begins. A few companies remain case studies for firms that aligned everyone’s interests – but these are few and far between.

    I suppose there is some agreement when everybody finger points to the CEO and cries foul. But as it was commented on within the GMAC post… it’s good to be the King. The King always gets his coffers filled. Well, unless they gets their head mounted on a pike when the invading horde rolls in.

  • avatar

    Machine repair is low-skill?

    To be fair, not low-skill in the ‘mowing grass’ way.

    It’s a trade. Being a mechanic in a private garage where the collection only changes every few years. There is a skill-set to acquire, but save for the electronics in robotics, it’s straightforward simple mechanics.

    My brother services industrial machinery. He now lives in Israel. One factor in his moving was the fact that the US machine tool industry was disappearing by fractions every year. In addition to repairs he also retrofits older lathes and mills with modern CNC control units.

    While some of the work is relatively straightforward, a lot of it is indeed challenging work, requiring an agile mind and superior troubleshooting and problem solving skills. I suppose that to some, ball screws and stepper/servo motors and their controls are “simple” mechanics. By the same token you might say that a modern ECU is “simple”. After all, it has a limited number of data inputs and processes it controls.

    In addition my brother’s mechanical and problem solving skills he also needs to have a decent working knowledge of how to operate the machinery, program the CNC stuff, M codes and the like. Since he’s self-employed and works for a variety of companies, perhaps the skill set is a bit broader than needed by someone like Rick, but I think you’re diminishing just how challenging the work is. As far as I’m concerned, if my brother can’t fix it, it can’t be fixed.

    While it’s not like working at the JPL, it’s about as technically demanding repair and troubleshooting work that there is. Like all technical jobs, you only need to be real smart about 10% of the time. The other 90% is relatively mundane things you’ve done before.

    People who fix things are vitally important and it’s a personally rewarding job. I’ve discussed this with my brother (I used to do IT support and have fixed my share of computer and network problems) and other technicians who repair things for a living. It gets personal. You just have to fix it. The fact that it’s a job gets pushed to the side. And when the machine or whatever is up and running again, it’s tremendously gratifying.

    Actually I fixed a machine last night. The crystal oscillator on my embroidery machine’s keyboard started flaking out a few months ago so I ordered some replacements for when it completely failed. When it comes to electronics I’m more of a parts replacer than a technician and I was just lucky to recognize the symptoms from the same problem a few years ago. It took me longer to disassemble the console to get access to the PC board than it did to desolder the old crystal and put the new one it.

  • avatar
    IOtheworldaliving

    @Ronnie:

    You betcha! That’s sort of a non-sequitur you delivered there. Of course there are exceptions to the rule, but the percentage of union workers at the D3 that are earning their total compensation package is less than that of the non-union transplant workers. Many reasons for this, but the situation is unsustainable unless you want autarky in this country.

  • avatar
    IOtheworldaliving

    @Ronnie: +1 on the high-skilled business. It said so right in the article that he was a skilled worker, so I didn’t understand why someone said he was very low-skilled.

  • avatar

    To hear them speak of each other would make a normal person wonder why we haven’t seen large-scale riots in some of the plants.

    Back in the early 1970s, there was a lot of racial friction in the plants and some small scale violence.

    A black assembly line worker at one of the Chrysler plants went postal on his supervisor and coworkers. I think he killed three people. His, ahem, lawyer successfully argued that it was the racism of the plant and supervisors that drove him to it. A Wayne County jury gave the guy a relative handslap.

  • avatar
    dgduris

    Ah! That’s not just GM. That story is typical of nearly any organized effort.

    I once worked at a start-up. I was the 5th guy in. All the ideas I came up with were pooh-poohed by the CEO (MIT Chem/ Kellogg MBA)…until he got to the next board meeting – at which point they became HIS idea.

    Typical. Short p&3!% syndrome.

    Now he runs four or five operating units of the company that took us out.

    Wha’ eve’.

  • avatar

    @Ronnie
    People who fix things are vitally important and it’s a personally rewarding job. I’ve discussed this with my brother (I used to do IT support and have fixed my share of computer and network problems) and other technicians who repair things for a living. It gets personal. You just have to fix it. The fact that it’s a job gets pushed to the side. And when the machine or whatever is up and running again, it’s tremendously gratifying.

    Thanks. I contend that we will come to really regret the day when we allowed the spreadsheet johnnies to move manufacturing en masse out of our countries. We need people who can fix things in the real world, particularly these days when we have more than enough people who think they can fix things through the virtual world of international finance.

    I wish some commenters would look through their prejudices, particularly when it comes to workers, and get the facts.

  • avatar
    rcguy

    “<emRonnie Schreiber :
    December 15th, 2008 at 11:22 pm

    This has nothing to do with current issues in the auto sector, and to bring this up is encouraging pointless anger and resentment.

  • avatar
    porschespeed

    I’m sorry.

    I never said anywhere that being a tech for Honda was any different than being a tech for GM. I should know that someone would open that sort of left fielder, just to make it an anti-GM thing. Oh well.

    The average auto mechanic has to be familiar with more systems, interactions, and most importantly, platforms than the average factory technician.

    I guess even the best and brightest have now bought into the notion that since you didn’t go to trade school, you can’t do it yourself.

    Do you really think that little of your abilities?

    Anybody with a brain, a bit of mechanical aptitude, and self-motivation can do plumbing, electrical, hydraulics…

    You are *not* born with a gene for HVAC, or electrician. If you are good at whatever job you do, you can learn another.

    Yes, there are demi-gods in every field. And they are rare and valuable, to be sure. But pretty much anyone can do pretty much any job that has many thousands of others doing it everyday.. Pretty darn well with a modicum of training.

    Maybe we really have lost the ‘can do’ spirit in this country. That does make me sad.

  • avatar
    Pig_Iron

    Why should we have a can-do attitude if you’re only going to get crapped on?

  • avatar
    dgduris

    Can-do?

    We don’t need that anymore!

    We got Obama-do so we don’t need to worry (pay no attention to the man taking the change out of your pocket).

    Maybe it is Obama-doo.

    Or Pelosi-doo, Fwank-doo, Dodd-doo or Cox-doo (in an effort to be fair & balanced).

  • avatar
    kericf

    This is by no means limited to only GM. But it is on GM and any other company to eliminate any managers that stifle creative, usefull ideas that could help the company at the most and make employees feel part of the company at the least. I have had my share of working for a large company where the manager was only interested in saving his own ass at any cost and when problems came out due to his own incompetance and poor decisions, he made sure to find ways to blame someone else. It is mis-management types that cause the majority of the harm in industrial business, I am certain of that.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    We got Obama-do so we don’t need to worry (pay no attention to the man taking the change out of your pocket).

    I love it. The man hasn’t even done anything yet and he’s already the cause of the last thirty years worth of problems. Credit crunch and bail-out issues? All Obama’s fault. Epidemic debt-management issues? Must be Obama. Racial strife? Obama, again. Dog got run over? It’s the goddamn Barack Obama.

  • avatar
    dgduris

    “Dog got run over?”

    OMG!

    He sings C&W too?! Swoon!

    Actually, I was using the PE as a proxy for big gumment. I mentioned some others on the play bill as well.

  • avatar
    1996MEdition

    psarhjinian: “Dog got run over? It’s the goddamn Barack Obama.”

    Don’t forget that he blew up the levees in New Orleans, too!

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