• Panic Time at Chrysler – Mandatory “Vacations” for All

Panic Time at Chrysler – Mandatory “Vacations” for All
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The New York Times, fresh of the exposure, er . . ., disclosure of former New York Governor Spitzer’s maledictions, has disclosed the latest reason to believe that Chrysler is down to counting the remaining pennies in the jar:

The mandatory “vacation.”

You may figure that when you work for a company, you get to pick the time of your vacation.

But not at Bob Nardelli’s Chrysler.

Chrysler, according to the Times, has informed all of its employees in “non-critical” positions that they’re going to take a two-week lay-off in the middle of July. The lay-off extends to hourly and salaried employees and, further, the employees are required to take it as vacation time.

(more after the jump)

Here’s how the ever candid Mr. Nardelli put it, in an e-mail sent to employees:

“As a private company, we all need to think like owners and do our part to accelerate Chrysler’s recovery and transformation.

“One idea that we have taken a fresh look at is the implementation of a two-week mandatory vacation shutdown. This year, in order to create better alignment and efficiency across organizational lines and boost productivity, Chrysler will use a corporate-wide vacation shutdown for the weeks of July 7 and July 14.”

Ordinarily, car companies close plants during the summer as they make tooling changes to produce new models. They do not close non-manufacturing operations and these change-over closures do not affect non-production workers.

What’s it all mean?

It means Chrysler is desperate.

As any good union member can tell you, employees do not ordinarily feel it incumbent upon themselves to “think like owners.” Owners, after all, not only share in the risk of loss, but also stand to share in the proceeds of success. Bob Nardelli and his henchmen, it is reported, have been promised huge benefits if Chrysler can, somehow, avoid losing Cerberus’ shirt. They stand to gain much by “thinking like owners.”

But, the rest of Chrysler’s workforce?

Chrysler was, last week, reported as missing its target of buying out 10,000 workers. So, no doubt, it wants to make working for the company even less attractive.

Then, maybe they’ll just quit.

That, at least seems to be the strategy.

How long – exactly – can a company, any company, survive when it abuses those who work for it?

At Bob Nardelli’s last employer, the answer turned out to be – ‘we don’t want to find out.’ The people who had hired Nardelli decided that he was such a cancer on the company which they had built that they fired him, even though that meant paying him $160 million – that was not a typo – to go. Maturity includes, after all, the ability to admit ones mistakes, cut one’s losses, and hope you do better the next time.

But, the real answer was presented to me this past week-end, by one of my hosts at the Amelia Island Concours. This particular lady works for General Motors, and is a very organized and efficient public relations person for her employer. Any company would be happy to have the benefit of her expertise. But, she chooses to work for GM. Pushed to give reasons, she offers several, but pushed a bit further, it comes down to this: she’s third-generation GM. She’s loyal to the company, she believes in it, she believes in its future and wants to make that future come true.

Home Depot used to have people like that. They lost a lot of them, though, by letting Bob Nardelli run the company.

And now Cerberus is giving him an encore.

The irony in all this is that Chrysler has never needed loyalty in its workforce more than it does today. Loyalty, however, doesn’t come from dictating terms. It comes from leadership. And leaders always have a vision.

Having a vision, of course, implies believing there is a future.

Does Nardelli have a vision?

Ralph Kalal
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