Success and tenacity go hand in hand.
Dave Cunningham / November 24, 2008
I saw a homeless panhandler yesterday, sitting on the sidewalk. Instinctively, I reached in my pocket to see if I had some change or a dollar, as it is my Catholic school learned belief that we should share with those who are less fortunate. As I walked closer to the man, I noticed that he was looking at a handful of change which he seemed to be counting. The lyrics to a song immediately flashed through my mind, “You don’t count your money, when you’re sitting at the table. There’ll be time enough for counting when the dealing’s done.”
My mind segued to last week’s meeting on Capitol Hill, when automotive CEO’s who had arrived in Washington, D.C. in private jets, hats-in-hand, seeking tax dollars for their beleaguered companies. So much in life is about timing. The change counter did not get my dollar and the CEO’s didn’t get their money either.
The homeless man will see another day to panhandle, and the CEO’s will get their second chance with Congress on December 1st. So I have some advice for the auto execs.
Develop a little sensitivity, guys! Next week, try a different approach. Try to come down from your lofty heights to understand what the real world is all about. First of all, jettison the three corporate planes for a day. Surely, you can make a little time for travel in exchange for twenty five billion dollars of our money. You might consider a “jet-pool” to Washington. After all, you’re all coming from the same city. Travel together! Or, consider a downgrade to first-class seats on a commercial carrier. Or, (perish the thought!), fly coach like the rest of us have to do. Get a feel for what it’s like for your prospective customers, waiting in line for TSA, going through security checks with your shoes and jackets stacked in a plastic tray, feeling, ridiculously enough, like a suspected terrorist. Experience the pleasure of having a stranger search your baggage for suspected contraband.
If this doesn’t appeal, I have an even better idea. You know those cars that you’re making for us taxpayers who will pay the bill for your bailout request? How about driving one of those to your meeting?
It may sound crazy to you. But consider driving a Chevy Cobalt, Ford Focus, or Chrysler mini-van from Detroit to D.C. If your cars are as good as you say they are in your advertising campaigns, you’ll enjoy a luxurious 10-hour drive. You might even begin to develop a clue, as to the need for fuel-efficient cars as you stop to fill the gas tank along the way! Maybe you’ll begin to understand why so many Americans are reluctantly choosing Toyotas and Hondas instead of your products!
Before you leave Detroit for your trip, here’s another thought. Try to remember, if you can, what it was like when you asked your parents for a handout. They probably required an explanation for why you needed the money and how you would repay it.
Get real! Make a plan! It may sound wild to you, but most of us know that when asking for money, the lender usually wants to know why. I do. What are you going to do with twenty five billion dollars? That’s billion – NINE ZEROS! It looks like this – $25,000,000,000. I wouldn’t ask for $100 without an explanation and that’s only two zeros.
Consider this. How about bringing some of your employees along with you? The UAW might bolster your case, as they detail the positive effects a government loan will have on their members. You might learn something too. Finally, if congress turns you down, do not, I repeat, do not go back home and fire another few thousand workers. It makes you look uncaring. Wait a week or two before hatcheting workers from the payroll. Try taking a hit on your own lucrative compensation packages.
Look, I favor government loans for American car companies if it will help keep them alive. I favor jobs for American workers. I favor making quality fuel-efficient American cars. I favor doing all we can to get through this current crisis, even if it means sacrifice on my part now for the sake of my children’s and grandchildren’s futures. Last week I heard a Republican congressman say that a loan to carmakers is, as he put it, “just delaying the inevitable.” It struck me that eating is delaying the inevitable. We’re all going to die anyway. So why bother eating? It only keeps us alive longer and delays the inevitable.
People ask me why I give money to beggars on the street (or CEO’s in Armani suits). They say things like, “Why are you doing that? They’ll use the money for drugs or cheap wine” (or corporate jets or big bonuses). Maybe they’re right, maybe not. It’s not up to me to decide if they need food or bus-fare or drugs (or delaying the inevitable). I do it because I should and it’s MY MONEY. It reminds me that, given other circumstances, I could be the homeless man (or unemployed auto-worker). It reminds me that we are all in this together and that what happens to one of us happens to all of us.
So, Mr. CEO in your Armani suit, get it right next time. It’s not about you. It’s about all of us!