Will the Ghost of Harold Kutner Still Haunt the Corridors of the New GM?

Posted on August 11, 2009

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In a May 15th, 2000 Business Week article Harold Kutner was referred to as an “old school purchasing guy with a reputation for playing hardball with suppliers.”

Amongst his heralded “accomplishments” at the time was the fact that he was the driving “force behind the auto industry’s first e-marketplace for car makers and parts suppliers” (Covisint comes to mind here).

Kutner’s vision of course involved bringing together Ford, Daimler Chrysler, Renault and Nissan with the intention of having the auto makers “sharing product-development data with suppliers, selling parts online, and allowing car buyers to get custom-built vehicles delivered in days rather than months.”

The exclamation point at the end of this collaborative dissertation was an ominous warning to suppliers that “if they don’t realize that there is a transformation going on, they won’t survive!”

In a twist of reverse irony that was driven home during today’s PI Window on Business broadcast “Intersecting Ideals: Why GM’s Supply Chain is in a State of Ruin,” it is not the supply network that has collapsed under the weight of what can only be described as arrogant proclamations of a new supply world order.   It is in fact the somewhat monolithic giants, and the North American auto industry as a whole, which deemed itself impervious to such concepts as sustainable supplier profitability and mutually beneficial collaboration that has failed to survive – at least not as the once high flying icons of the business world.

The lesson of course is simply this . . . strategies and the corresponding technologies upon which they are built cannot be sustained in the absence of a collaborative process that seeks to engage key stakeholders both within and external to an enterprise to identify and ultimately work towards a collective best-result outcome.

The question is simply this, will the new GM and other North American auto makers learn from their past mistakes, and align its attitudes and practices with the real transformation that is taking place in a truly globalized market?

Only time will tell if these organizations, as well as those from industries within both the private and public sectors, will actually learn from their mistakes and therefore avoid repeating them.