Independent Thinking Blog

Will Firing GM’s CEO Force Change?

Did GM’s CEO have to go?

There’s been a lot of discussion about the government’s move to replace Rick Wagoner as a precursor to any wholesale restructuring by the troubled automaker. My own opinion: He had to go. Reinventing a business is hard work, and it typically requires a leader who comes from outside and is prepared to make the tough decisions. Despite being one federal bailout away from bankruptcy, Wagoner and his team were 1) slow to recognize they had a big problem, and 2) unable to come up with a plan for moving forward.

Wagoner’s departure has also generated a lot of discussion about leadership, what it means and what it takes to be successful in the business world. The Washington Post asked a panel of academics, ex-politicians, and one labor leader to weigh in on the question: Is removing the top leader the best way to signal that dramatic change is imminent and inevitable?

Here’s a sample of what they had to say:

Noel Tichy–“Wagoner failed to make the judgment calls on people, strategy or in the crisis… The real challenge will be to find a transformational leader from outside GM. Otherwise, we will simply be getting a cultural clone.”

Paul Portney–“When things go even moderately well, it has been a handful of people…who benefited the most… Simple fairness requires, then, that when things go wrong, the responsibility ought to be borne by that same group of people.”

Andy Stern–“Accountability, sharing in the pain and gain, is a tried and true American value.”

Mickey Edwards–“Sometimes the problem is not with the failure of leadership at the top, but a failure of responsible leadership by those who undertake it to bring about a change… [Firing Wagoner will] send a message but it won’t immediately transform the assembly lines or panic suppliers and unions into concessions they don’t believe to be in their best interests or sustainable.”

Warren Bennis–“This isn’t like firing a coach after one bad season. This is the top leader who’s been losing every season of this decade.”

Read all their opinions here. Then come back and tell me what you think.

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