(Editor's note: To access some of these stories, registration or a subscription may be required. Please check the individual links for the site's policy.)General Motors ( GM), which has a hard time giving future guidance, is also having trouble telling us what happened in the past.
But even now, as GM trots out all the right phrases about concentrating on its turnaround (even without cash bovine GMAC, which GM sold -- witness some of the accounting problems) and bringing a laser-like focus to the future, it thirsts for more complicated deals that will drive those sales numbers to the top spot. It's never a healthy sign (
see: when Pfizer ( PFE) was laying off salespeople while crowing about how it had a great pipeline, with many future drugs that will need salespeople to sell them) when management is saying one thing and doing another. Recently we've had GM talking a good game about paring down for the sake of simplicity and profitability, but then confirming that it might make a grab for a big old mess of a Malaysian car company named Proton Holdings. Proving that just as generals fight the last war, those who are long a stock judge the future by the last similar merger, a trunkful of readers pointed to the Daewoo deal. Good try, I wrote back, but in mergers, as in matters of the heart, good timing is everything. Effective deals for shareholders, which differ from the investment-banking and CEO ego-driven deals that occur more frequently, are a bit of an art. And as I wrote the day before the company further diminished investor confidence in its competence by announcing it had failed to bring the GMAC deal in for a landing, doing the Proton deal could create one ugly picture. The time has to be right.
As in so much in the artistic realm, answers to the future can be found in simple language, the words right in front of us. So, is this the right time for GM to strike out in a different direction? Or should the company that can't meet filing deadlines stay true to its words and keep it simple, stupid? Investors, heed these simple words from GM's CFO Fritz Henderson, who receives The Business Press Maven's "Brownie, You're Doing a Heck of a Job There" award. In claiming on a conference call that the company had not hurt credibility with investors and just needed to get the numbers right, he said: "We just have a lot of things going on." Fritz, my boy, The Business Press Maven's children come up with better excuses for not doing their homework. But thanks. Inadvertently, you spoke to whether it's a good sign for investors if the company takes on more. From Fritz, let's talk Frank, as in Frank Blake, the new CEO of Home Depot ( HD). We've heard from everyone from The New York Times to The Atlanta-Journal Constitution about how his pay package is fairer to you, the beleaguered shareholder, than Bob Nardelli's. In case you don't recall, Nardelli was handed $200 million (more than The Business Press Maven makes in two entire years) to walk away from a company he ran into a ditch. On this new deal, most of the business media have nodded approvingly at the tying of any bonuses to the performance of the S&P. But investors, this is a new worthless metric. The S&P can be strong while Home Depot still underperforms, and then guess what? Frank is in bonus city. Contrast the lack of skepticism you'll find in some quarters to the take from the Financial Times, which smartly says that his bonuses should be harnessed to the more demanding mark of retail peers. Of course, The Business Press Maven has no peers, so judging him by a standard other than the one he sets for himself four mornings a week is pure folly.