Saturday, March 13, 2010

Saturn, A Good Idea not allowed by GM to flourish

Innovation is never enough by itself. This article in Forbes - How GM Destroyed Its Saturn Success, by David Hanna - explains what went wrong at Saturn.

"A lesson in how to win at innovation in even the most traditional company--and then how to crush that innovation."
I remember talking with an official from Saturn in the nineties. I was excited about what they were doing then and quite optimistic about their future. The biggest innovation that I saw was the partnership between labor and management.

From my dealing with GM in the eighties as material manager for a just-in-time supplier, I witnessed first hand how both management and labor at GM were messed up.

There were many bad management decisions from GM. That included poor planning and the resultant knee jerk decisions to put band aids on problems.

GM visited our plant often and I visited their operations several times. During one of my visits to a GM plant a GM engineer was explaining a packaging idea for the parts that we supplied to them.

The engineer wanted to show me what they were using for another product. So we approached a production line that was machining small parts for transmissions. He pointed out the plastic trays that they used to hold the finished parts and prevent them from being damaged. Each plastic tray was similar to an over-sized egg cartoon holding about 20 finished parts.

The trays in front of us were full of parts so the engineer asked the production worker, "Do you have an empty tray that we could have?"

The production worker looked at the engineer, then calmly picked up a tray full of finished parts, dumped the parts in a scrap bin and gave the tray to the engineer.

The engineer and I looked at each other in shock, shook our heads and returned to his office.

My first three cars were GM. I've never even considered buying GM since.

George Torok

Business Speaker


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