"Firing Line" is a new column about company management by Matthew "Whiz" Buckley, author of the upcoming book "From Sea Level to C Level" that draws on his experiences in both the military and corporate America.
needs a SPA.
No, not the kind that the executives can jet off to soak in or another special reward for the UAW members in the "Jobs Bank" who collect pay for not working.
I'm talking about a real SPA, what we in the military called a Single Point of Accountability.
General Motors, or soon-to-be-called "Government Motors," filed for bankruptcy on Monday. In my opinion, months late and with a car full of clowns, but now that we as taxpayers own most of the company, it's time to start demanding leadership and accountability.
When I transitioned from flying fighters for the U.S. Navy and ventured into the business world, one of the first and most distinct differences I noticed was the lack of accountability among so-called "business leaders." I remember my first day at a large Wall Street firm where I was the Managing Director of Strategy. I asked a techie who was involved in a monstrous initiative that was struggling who was in charge. He replied, "Well, Steve and I, along with a guy from ops and a senior trader. We all kind of run it."
Not sharing in my laughter, the techie looked confused. I explained to him that from this point forward we were going to have a SPA, a Single Point of Accountability, for this project. A throat to choke in the event of failure, or a back to pat for success. The business world tends to avoid such accountability. They want to be able to point to someone else when something fails. "I wasn't in charge" can be their response when there's no clear leader.
There is no such fuzziness in the military. There can't be or people die. Troops in hostile and rapidly changing circumstances need to know at all times who is in charge, who gives the orders. And the military has a tight succession plan in place to continue command -- we knew at all times who the No. 2 guy was in the event the flight lead got shot down. This person assumed command and we continued on the mission with little interruption. We had to.
None of these leadership tenets are in place at GM. Who is in charge? CEO Fritz Henderson? The newly named Chief Restructuring Officer Al Koch? The government's man Steve Rattner? Chairman of the Board Kent Kresa? Or is the real hidden power still resting with Ron Gettelfinger and the UAW, after the president broke with fundamental business precepts, excorticated bondholders, and paid back his union supporters? I have no clue who's in charge of this train wreck.
Let's look downrange a little and do some contingency planning -- another skill lacking with the "leadership" at GM. The administration is going to force GM to make cars that no one wants to buy to appease their environmental wing, ensuring GM's permanent place in business school comic books. I don't know who is going to buy these "green" cars, or why. Driving today has become like a mature air-to-air dogfight, and I don't plan on being on the losing end. The safety of my wife and children is my first and only concern and if by some unfortunate chance they are involved in an accident, I want them walking away unscathed. Companies like
(F), who passed on a government bailout, along with the "foreign domestic" automakers like
will be free to make cars consumers want to buy. There's an idea!
We, as taxpayers, need to know today who the GM SPA is. Otherwise, when GM implodes -- again -- there will be no one to hold accountable. Henderson will point to the government and say: "They made me do it. They fired the last guy." The president will point to Henderson and say: "He was the CEO and needed to get GM back to profitability."
This accountability shell game is currently being played out over at
Bank of America
. Ken Lewis is pointing the finger at
Chairman Ben Bernanke and then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, saying they pressured him into going through with the
( MER) acquisition, even though Lewis had a fiduciary duty to Bank of America shareholders. The resulting fur ball is certain to provide interesting theater in Congress and the courts for years to come.
There's a way to prevent this from happening. A true leader is one who stands up and says three words: "I got it."
Unfortunately, at GM we have a ship of fools with everyone thinking "someone else has it," and that's not good with over $70 billion (and counting) of our money at stake.
Matthew "Whiz" Buckley is the Managing Partner of
, a business-consulting firm specializing in leadership development, risk management, and strategic planning for Fortune 500 companies and related organizations. Whiz flew the F-18 Hornet for the U.S. Navy. He's a graduate of TOPGUN, has close to 400 carrier landings, and flew 44 combat sorties over Iraq. He transitioned to the business world after he was scheduled to fly his first flight as an airline pilot on 9/11. Instead, he ended up flying combat air patrol over the U.S. He rose rapidly though corporate America, starting as Managing Director of Strategy at a Wall Street firm, to CEO of a financial media company. He is an internationally recognized speaker and combined his unprecedented experiences in the military and corporate America in the writing of From Sea Level to C Level.