People are often surprised to find that companies that seem to be on top of the world only a short time before are suddenly struggling to survive. This turn of events doesn't happen overnight, it takes time.
Look at DaimlerChrysler AG. People ask, how could this happen to a company that not so long ago was considered one of the most profitable in the industry? Everyone blames poor old James Holden. He was thepresident for less than a year before he got sacked. There's no way that all of Chrysler's problems could have been created in less than a year. You have to go back further to see how it started.
To begin with, Robertas chief executive officer made no attempt to develop people to fill the top positions. The people he selected may have been nice guys, but they had very narrow experience. Tom Stallkamp's experience, for example, was strictly in purchasing and was never really tested in any other area. The same is true for Mr. Holden, who had only sales experience. When the people that made Corp. were gone, there was no depth left in the organization.
It's unfortunate that DC AG chief Juergen Schrempp had to bring outsiders in to try to straighten out Chrysler. I don't believe he had a choice, because Chrysler had no one.
His choices were Dieter Zetsche and Wolfgang Bernhard. They both had to prove themselves in a number of assignments, including the international field, involving a long tenure in the corporation.
Years ago when I worked in the plant we put in 10 to 12 hours a day and sometimes six or seven days a week for long periods at a time. Those of us that are still around, when we get together, like to talk about those days. We laugh about the disasters and that we somehow survived those grueling times.
Yet, I never heard anybody, ever, talk about burnout. Today the media writes a lot about worker burnout. From what I gather, it's not so much the number of hours that these people work but the stress they experience on the job.
So how is today's job stress any different? I have no doubt that some people today get to a point that they can't function mentally because they are dealing constantly with problems that they were not trained to deal with, have not experienced before and haven't a clue how to solve. Yet, they are under a great deal of pressure to come up with a solution.
It's not that the job pressures are any less today. The difference, I believe, is that we were better trained to handle them.
In our time, people with potential for higher positions were given responsibilities in a broad range of job assignments. You were not promoted automatically.
Most companies today will not make the effort to develop their people through progressive on-the-job assignments. It's just easier to send people back to school for another degree. I'm all for formal education. But that's only part of it. The other part is whether you can apply it correctly, and that can come only with experience.
That doesn't happen now as much because it would require a long-time commitment. The name of the game today is to come up with the numbers to make the quarterly report look good and drive the stock price up. When you get the stock price high enough, you cash in your stock options, retire or quit and join another company and play the same game.
But it's a loser's game, and the company is the loser. The bottom line hasn't changed; the long-term success of any company still is dependent on its ability to develop attractive products that are competitively priced.
Today the organizations of many companies are loaded with over-educated carpetbaggers. They may have held a number of different jobs, but none long enough to prove that they had any capabilities.
The things that these people are proficient in are what they learned in business school. They may be good at reorganization, restructuring, spin-offs, outsourcing and other short-term actions that produce short-term solutions — and usually long-term problems.
Stephan Sharf is a former executive vice president for manufacturing at Chrysler Corp.