What an amazing article in the Times today about the closing of part of a signature Saturn plant.
Anyone in the U.S. in the 90â€™s remembers the quirky Saturn commercials featuring this Spring Hill plant; how Coveyâ€™s book had a ringing endorsement from Skip LeFauve, President of Saturn; how Saturn was representative of the new team-based thinking coupled with a revolution in worker-management relations.
The article offers many excuses, but little facts. Many of these explanations are mutually exclusive: did they lose their core values or did they never have them? Was it a quality product or just good marketing or a perception? Most importantly, a constant refrain unanswered, where did Saturn go?
One interesting observation in the article is the bumper stickers: â€œI Love My Saturnâ€ and â€œBuy American, Buy Union.â€ Saturn was a company that stressed loyalty of the consumer to the product and of the workers to management.
The J.D. Power and Consumer Reports surveys say that the cars were no more reliably than their Japanese rivals. â€œI love my Saturnâ€ but how much did your Saturn really love you?
These workers swept the floors and painted fences when work was slow and removed the no layoffs clause on their union contracts. Nobody shows their true colors until times are tough. This was repaid by no car revisions and layoffs this year.
Did loyalty cross over into blindness? Is there a more classic case of how the true test of worth can only be found in times of distress?
And isnâ€™t â€œBuy American, Buy Unionâ€ an ironic combination in todayâ€™s polarized politics? Having used those terms to get ourselves out of the shattering of our strength in the 80â€™s to Japan and Germany we seemed to have bought into a mistaken mythology that we were invincible. Could you imagine this slogan working todayâ€”the last 10 years weâ€™ve been indoctrinating ourselves that what is good for our pocketbooks is good for the country, that somehow we can trickle-down â€œconsumer spendâ€ our way out of our predicament.
The wind in that sail has left.
Burning someone at the stake
Even if we canâ€™t figure out much about Saturnâ€™s fall, I think it is important to remember this is a scathing indictment on something. For if someone crowed about revolutionary management techniques for the rise of Saturn, then should we not pillory them for its fall? At best, it never worked; at worst, it was a short-term distraction that hurt.
The most amusing thing about this is that the only defense to this given in the article is that the â€œdifferent kind of companyâ€ that Saturn was, was never different at all.
â€œEveryone had that gung-ho feeling,â€ Sylvia Johnson said. â€œI thought we would still be doing the same thing for the next 30, 40 years.â€ Poor Sylvia only lasted half that.
Another business and management myth crumbles.