There is a long-running debate on who’s ahead in the turnaround battle, GM or Ford. Popular perception, especially in the media, has been that GM was ahead. Some examples from over a year ago include:
The essential difference between Ford and
GM, according to some industry analysts, is that GM went into the tank
first and is ahead in the restructuring game. "I consider
Ford to be in crisis and GM to be in transition," said Gerald Meyers, a
former chairman of American Motors Corp. who now teaches leadership at
the University of Michigan. "The future is not clear yet at General
Motors. There is a future. It’s just a matter of how much and when, and
that’s a big step ahead of Ford."
But the Dearborn-based company [Ford]
doesn’t have the momentum that GM has, said Rebecca Lindland, an auto
analyst at Global Insight, an economic research and consulting company. "The biggest difference is GM is on track. They have a mission.
When I talk to the people there, when you see the products, you get a
feeling of confidence and empowerment," she said. "With Ford, all we
hear about is conflict, turmoil, uncertainty. Internally this is at all
To which we responded,
Ford is "conflict, turmoil,
uncertainty." Is that necessarily a bad thing? I would be more
concerned with a company that was "complacent, steady, overconfident"
to use just one set of antonyms. In fact, we’ve written before about
the Toyota culture, which has a presumption of imperfection.
That type of stress can be good, and the fear of a cataclysmic industry
or market disruption is often what drives the most successful lean
And so it has come to pass. Ford’s turnaround seems to be working.
The first evidence that this seems to be working came
last fall, when Ford earned special praise for its quality improvements
from Consumer Reports magazine, the bible of the car-buying public. CR
rated the Ford Fusion midsize sedan among the most reliable of all
cars, Japanese makes included, and said that 41 of 44 Ford and Lincoln
models scored average or better in its quality tests.
Then, last week, Ford surprised Wall Street by turning
a modest profit of $100 million in the first quarter. The company still
reported negative cash flow, but the unexpected profit indicated the
company might be on the mend. Ford’s stock jumped nearly 12%.
Earlier this week we learned that billionaire Kirk Kerkorian has made a major investment in Ford. He’s done this in the past with GM and Chrysler, but in an attempt to gain some control over their faltering turnaround initiatives. This time he has a different purpose.
Should Ford executives, and the Ford family, be pressing the panic button on the proverbial corporate dashboard?
Not at all. Instead, they should be celebrating –
along with the rest of Ford’s shareholders. This is the first time that
Mr. Kerkorian has made a major automotive investment because he
actually believes in the company’s management and direction.
The people who should be concerned are the executives at General
Motors. Mr. Kerkorian’s latest move might spotlight concern that GM’s
own turnaround effort, which appeared well underway until last fall, is
hitting potholes just as Ford’s seems to be accelerating.
I wonder where he first got the inkling that Ford might be the better investment? Deep inside analysis and knowledge? Or a blog?