Thursday, January 29, 2009

“Hangover in Detroit”

c. 2009 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

Note to Readers: What follows here is a one-act play. The participants in this drama are discussing gloomy conditions for America’s automobile industry.

SETTING: A secluded boardroom in Detroit, Michigan. CEOs of the ‘Big Three’ automakers have assembled for a secret meeting about their future.

THE PLAYERS: Henry Ford XVI; Walter Cerberus Chrysler; General Motors; New England Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick; former Chrysler Chairman Lee Iacocca.

The participants chatter nervously over coffee, before their meeting. Detroit remains in the midst of a ‘hangover’ after years of market dominance. Reluctantly, the session is called to order.

LEE IACOCCA – “Good morning, everyone!”

The group responds with a collective yawn. No one looks happy.

LEE IACOCCA - “I’d like to introduce Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots. We’ve both been asked by members of Congress to help you draft a plan for the future. As you know, I helped save Chrysler the first time, with government loan guarantees. And Coach Belichick has learned the art of winning after hard years in Cleveland. So… let us begin.”

BILL BELICHICK – “Ahem! Welcome to school, everyone. It’s a pleasure to have you on the sidelines. Let’s get down to business.”

WALLY CHRYSLER – “School? You’ve got to be kidding!”

GENERAL MOTORS – “I don’t need any schooling, pilgrim! Everything I need to know came from the Army Field Manual…”

HENRY FORD XVI – “Settle down guys. Coach Bill is here to help us get things straightened out.”

B. BELICHICK – (Nodding) “Thanks. I’ll do my best.”

W. CHRYSLER – “This was your idea, wasn’t it, Ford?? I saw you whispering to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reed and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi when we made the car caravan to Washington D.C.!”

GENERAL M. – “I march to my own drummer, soldier! No fancy seminar will fix what ails the automobile industry!”

FORD XVI – “Look, both of you are on government welfare right now. You’d be bankrupt if George Bush hadn’t stepped in with bailout money. So quit complaining and listen to the coach!”

B. BELICHICK – “Thanks, Henry. What I want to talk about today is rebuilding your businesses. Everything starts with a change in your mindset. You’ve all got to ‘buy into’ the philosophy of working together. That’s how I made the Patriots a winning franchise.”

W. CHRYSLER – “You sound like an Amway salesman!”

GENERAL M. – “I think he’s read too much Joel Osteen.”

B. BELICHICK – “A team is successful when all the players work as a unit. That’s just as important as having talented athletes at every position…”

GENERAL M. – “Like a well-trained platoon?”

B. BELICHICK – “Right. No individuals seeking a personal glory. Just a cohesive group of soldiers working toward shared goals.”

GENERAL M. – “Ten-hut! I’ll salute that flag!”

W. CHRYSLER – “I’ll salute anyone that’ll show me how to sell some of my backlogged SUVs.”

FORD XVI – “The Coach can’t work miracles, Wally. Relax!”

GENERAL M. – (Laughing out loud) “Yeah, you need to call a magician!”

W. CHRYSLER – “Don’t chuckle too hard, General. You looked awfully pathetic begging for money on Capitol Hill.”

LEE IACOCCA – “Let’s stay focused, men!”

FORD XVI – “Lee is right. Listen to Coach Bill!”

B. BELICHICK – “I won Superbowl rings by getting my players to believe in the idea of shared sacrifice. But everybody has to be on board. What I see out of you is finger pointing. You blame UAW wages and benefits, while they complain about your excessive bonuses. Don’t you see the light? All of you are in the same boat. It’s time to quit arguing and start rowing!”

GENERAL M. – (Grumbling) “You’re a good talker, Coach. But we want to be back on top of the industry, like when Eisenhower was Commander in Chief!”

LEE IACOCCA – “General, you’ve got to change your thinking. It’s a long way past 1955. Quit blubbering about the golden era. Get to work on tomorrow!”

B. BELICHICK – “You’ve got to have a ‘system’ that works. That’s the template. Then you plug in resources as they develop. Look at my football team - we lost Quarterback Tom Brady to injuries, in week one of the last season. But Matt Cassel took over, and we won eleven games. That how to build your business. You’ve got to get your thinking right.”

W. CHRYSLER – (Making a rude noise) “Talk is cheap. We just need more money!”

GENERAL M. – (Clicking his heels) “Yes sir! We need to requisition another airlift of cash, pronto.”

LEE IACOCCA – “General, you and Walter are on government life support, right now. I‘ve been through hard times. But I turned things around. You’ve got to do the same – and better!”

FORD XVI – “He’s right, guys. There’s no other way.”

B. BELICHICK – “You need to study your opponents. Figure out what they’re doing that generates productivity. Then put yourself in a better position. Be prepared for tomorrow!”

W. CHRYSLER – “Heck, I might be on the soup line tomorrow!”

GENERAL M. – “Not me! Old soldiers never die. They just fade away…like the paint on a Monza 2+2.”

LEE IACOCCA – “Remember Volkswagen and Datsun? We laughed at those little cars. Then the Oil Embargo hit in 1973, and all of a sudden, you couldn’t give away a Cadillac or a Lincoln. We responded with cars that were thrifty, and lean…”

GENERAL M. – “Like my Chevette. It could hike 43 miles on a gallon of gas!”

W. CHRYSLER – “What about my ‘K-Cars?’”

FORD XVI – “Ugh! Don’t make me remember those junkyard queens!”

GENERAL M. – “Pipe down, Ford! Your Pinto wasn’t exactly bulletproof!”

LEE IACOCCA – “Gentlemen! Stop bickering!! You’ve gone backwards over time. SUVs were hot, and you built them at every price level. Then, gasoline went over four bucks per gallon last year. It was the same dilemma all over again. You weren’t ready for changes in the market.”

B. BELICHICK – “That’s what I mean. You’ve got to be prepared. Calamities happen and you’ve got to respond immediately – or be booted out of the playoffs.”

GENERAL M. – “But your team DIDN’T make the playoffs this year, soldier!”

FORD XVI – “Stand down, General!”

B. BELICHICK – “The point is, we were competitive. Our record was better than some teams that did advance. We kept up our level of play despite circumstances. Toyota and Honda have done the same under tough market conditions. But what about… you?”

Silence fills the room. The three CEOs hang their heads with shame.

LEE IACOCCA – “This isn’t just about the three of you, or your companies. It’s about hundreds of thousands of people who depend on our industry for a paycheck, every day. It’s about national pride. It’s about being a winner… or…”

B. BELICHICK – “Or having a meltdown like my old team on Lake Erie.”

FORD XVI – “So… what’s it gonna be, guys? Do we go for a win, or just hit the showers?”

B. BELICHICK – (Raising his fist in the air) “Winner, on three! One… two…three!”

EVERYONE – (Echoing his sentiment) “WINNER!!!”

Postscript: Condolences to the family of Ricardo Montalban, who passed away recently. His endorsement of the Chrysler Cordoba with rich ‘Corinthian Leather’ will be a part of American popular culture, forever.

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