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通用汽车陨落CEO的背运生涯

Alex Taylor III 2011年05月13日


 Former GM CEO Robert C. Stempel died at 77 on Tuesday.
本周二,通用汽车公司前CEO罗伯特•C. 斯坦普尔去世,享年77岁。
 

    最近,罢黜首席执行官在通用汽车公司(General Motors)已成为一桩司空见惯的事。过去两年间,已有两位在任者被替换下台。

    但是1992年当董事会收到鲍伯•斯坦普尔的辞呈时,他却成为自1921年公司创始人比利•杜兰特被撤职以来首位丢掉饭碗的通用汽车公司老板。

    他算是在错误的时间、错误的地点出现的错误的人选。

    作为一个颇有成就的工程师和受人欢迎的领导者,斯坦普尔是通用公司一度需要的首席执行官。但是,他有点生不逢时。他应该在20世纪60年代坐上这个位置。那时候,公司的管理大权被移交到一群个性平庸的会计师和官僚主义者手中。他们对成功习以为常,因此让汽车业务变成官僚机构和固步自封状态的附庸,这最终导致公司在2009年一蹶不振。

    而作为一个彻头彻尾的汽车人,斯坦普尔本来有可能避免公司落到这一下场。他热爱机械类的东西,特别喜欢通用汽车首批前轮驱动的汽车之一——Olds Toronado。

    然而,他被迫转型为金融工程师。1990年,斯坦普尔登上了首席执行官的宝座。此前,他的前任罗杰•史密斯已在一系列有欠考虑的业务上大笔投入公司资金,这些业务包括大批工厂机器人、无用的装配工厂以及为土星(Saturn)这一品牌建立的全新汽车分公司。

    在通常情况下,考虑到通用汽车公司的种种竞争弱点,斯坦普尔的日子不会好过。在史密斯治下,公司的市场份额急剧下跌,从43.5%跌至33.5%,而公司却没有及时削减产能以弥补损失。

    史密斯曾决定将北美运营部门分拆为两个独立核算的集团,这一决定为害无穷。但作为忠贞不贰的人,斯坦普尔拒绝撤消这一决定,结果使实际上让这家巨型公司得以运转的非正式联络网毁于一旦。

    而且,他还不愿对汽车工人联合会(United Auto Workers)采取强硬立场,允许工会建立其恶名远扬的工作银行。这一银行保证了下岗工人也能获得其全额工薪的近95%。

    斯坦普尔明确地将这一合约视为“双赢”,而实际上它创造的是“赢-输”的格局。

    斯坦普尔的命运在他走进办公室的第二天就板上钉钉了。那时伊拉克正好入侵科威特,挑起了第一次海湾战争,迫使油价飞涨,将经济拖入泥潭。

    斯特普尔的工程师背景让他在应对这种千头万绪的危机时一筹莫展。当时压力巨大,他无法有效应对。作为一个深思熟虑,也许还有点步调拖沓的决策者,他不愿意迅速做出改变,而是无论环境如何变化,宁可坚持自己的计划。同时,作为一个有血有肉的人,他无法忍心解雇与自己共事数年的人。

    公司高管在危机中的延宕促使董事会奋起行动。宝洁公司(Procter & Gamble)前首席执行官约翰•斯梅尔被派遣来调查事实真相,结果揭露了公司核心溃烂的现实。

    当斯梅尔3月向董事会汇报时,他没带来什么好消息。在今年春季耶鲁大学出版社(Yale University Press)出版的平装新作《60到0》(Sixty to Zero)中,我回顾了这一场景。成本高企,产品质量低劣,工厂产能开工严重不足,通用汽车对市场反应迟钝,一次脱胎换骨的重组势在必行。

    面对这些情况,斯坦普尔的反应可谓迟缓,甚至可说是固执己见。他无视董事会让他支走两位高管的指令,在董事会提出要求时,他也无法让自己解雇一位密友。他只是对其做了降职处理。他留任公司总裁和首席执行官,但实际上已被投了不信任票。

    新的架构毫不奏效。斯坦普尔则一如既往地顽抗到底,他不理会迅速变革亟需实施的信号,而是继续按照自己明确可知的方式一意孤行。当公司的现金开始大量损失时,董事们决定,斯塔普尔必须走人了。1992年10月23日,他正式下台。

    作为一个自负的人,斯坦普尔还是留在了底特律。有一段时间,他曾致信记者们——这是他作为首席执行官绝不会干的事——纠正他们就通用汽车公司历史发表的一些观点。随后他去了一家电池研究公司工作,历经数年,直到创始人将他提拔为首席执行官。这后一段经历是够艰苦的,但从未听到斯坦普尔对此有所怨言。

    在大好年景中,拥有斯坦普尔是通用汽车公司的幸事。而在时运不济的年头,他也始终是一位力图挽救公司命运的忠诚战士。但不幸的是,对他本人及公司来说,他担当了很不合适的职责。

    译者:清远

    Pushing out CEOs at General Motors has become routine lately, with two incumbents having been displaced in the past two ears.

    But when the board of directors got Bob Stempel's resignation in 1992, he became the first GM (GM, Fortune 500) boss to lose his job since company founder Billy Durant was removed in 1921.

    He was the wrong person in the wrong place at the wrong.

    Stempel, an accomplished engineer and popular leader, was the kind of CEO GM had once needed, but his timing was bad. Stempel should have risen up in the 1960s when the automaker was being turned over to a faceless succession of accountants and bureaucrats. So accustomed were they to success that they allowed the car business to become secondary to the bureaucracy and insularity that would bring the company down in 2009.

    Stempel, a car guy's car guy, might have prevented that. He loved working on things mechanical and was especially fond of the Olds Toronado, one of GM's first front-wheel drive cars.

    Instead, he was forced to become a financial engineer. Stempel got his shot at the top job in 1990, after his predecessor Roger Smith spent the company's treasure on ill-considered ventures like armies of factory robots, unneeded assembly plants, and a whole new car division in Saturn.

    Under ordinary circumstances, Stempel would have had a difficult time, given GM's competitive shortcomings. Market share had declined precipitously under Smith, falling from 43.5% to 33.5% and the company belatedly was cutting capacity to compensate.

    Ever the loyalist, Stempel refused to undo Smith's disastrous decision to divide North American operations into two autonomous groups, thereby destroying the informal networks that actually allowed the giant company to function.

    And he wouldn't get tough with the United Auto Workers, allowing the union to establish its notorious job banks that guaranteed laid-off workers nearly 95% of their full pay.

    Stempel memorably referred to the contract as a "win-win" when it actually was a "win-lose."

    Stempel's fate was sealed on his second day in office. That was when Iraq invaded Kuwait, setting off the first Gulf War, driving oil prices sky-high and sending the economy into recession.

    Nothing in Stempel's engineering background had prepared him for this kind of multi-pronged crisis. The pressure was enormous and he didn't handle it well. A deliberate, perhaps plodding, decision-maker, he hated to be rushed into making changes and preferred to stick to his plan regardless of circumstances. And as a human being, he couldn't face the idea of laying off people he had worked with for years.

    Procrastination at the top during a crisis antagonized the board of directors. Former Procter & Gamble (PG, Fortune 500) CEO John Smale was dispatched on a fact-finding mission that revealed a rot at the heart of the company.

    When Smale reported back to the board in March, he didn't bring good news, as I recounted in Sixty to Zero, published this spring in soft-cover by Yale University Press. Costs were high, product quality was low, factories were running well below capacity, GM was slow to market, and a sweeping reorganization was needed.

    Stempel reacted slowly, almost stubbornly, to the news. He ignored the board's direction to move two executives aside, and couldn't bring himself to dismiss a close friend, as the board wanted. Instead, he demoted him. Stempel remained in place as chairman and CEO, but had effectively been given a vote of no confidence.

    The new setup didn't work. Reluctant as ever, Stempel didn't take the hints that rapid change was required and continued to proceed in his predictable manner. With the company hemorrhaging cash, the directors decided Stempel had to go, and on October 23, 1992, he did.

    A proud man, Stempel stayed around Detroit. For a time, he penned notes to journalists -- something he would never have done as CEO -- correcting them on points of GM history. Then he went to work for a battery research company and waited years before the founder promoted him to CEO. Second acts are tough there, but Stempel was never heard to complain.

    GM was lucky to have him in its good years. And Stempel was a loyal enough soldier to try to save it during its bad years. Unfortunately for him, and the company, he was badly miscast.

 

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