(Readers: Please note the blog about the 5th revolution in the US is constructed as a story. While not all chapters are linked, the story might be more meaningful by starting at the beginning.)

(Want a PDF version for Entries #1-10, #11-20, #21-30 formatted for tablets and e-books?  Entries #31-40 available soon.  Click links for download.  America’s 5th Revolution Volume I (Entries 1-10)America’s 5th Revolution Volume II (Entries 11-20)America’s 5th Revolution Volume III (Entries 21-30)

Scene: Jordan’s office with Matt, reporter for major publication.  Matt has been asked by POTUS’ office to help write the story of GM.  POTUS wants to use the information as part of a plan to help rebuild US manufacturing.

Jordan:  “Before we discuss how some changes to the GM organization affected culture, I want to discuss personalities.

reporter on typewriter clipartMatt:  “Not more warm and fuzzy stuff, I hope.  Where’s the meat to the story?”

Jordan:  “POTUS asked me to write about GM and lessons for rebuilding US manufacturing.  Part of the story is how CEO’s can affect the company’s culture and competitiveness.”

Matt:  “Keep talking…but it still sounds warm and fuzzy.”

Jordan:  “Think about what we’ve covered so far.  About 100 years ago GM goes bankrupt twice in less than 15 years.  Then a new management team comes in and voila, GM becomes a profit machine.”

Matt:  “GM printed money for many decades.”

board-clip-art-300x224Jordan:  “So what changed at GM?  My contention is the CEO at GM…and any organization…has more influence than most people realize.”

Matt:  “What about the board of directors?  Don’t they select the CEO?”

Jordan:  “The board might not realize how influential the CEO is, especially a CEO that is bad for morale.”

Matt:  “So a bad guy at the top can influence an entire company?  You really believe that?”

Jordan:  “You know the expression about stuff running downhill.  Well, it’s true at companies too.”

Matt:  “Never really thought about it.  Have you got a GM example?”

GM,_logoJordan:  “Alright.  I want to compare a few GM CEO’s after Alfred P. Sloan.  The comparison won’t be just dollars and cents but personalities.”

Matt:  “Then can we talk organizational structure?”

Jordan:  “Without understanding the personalities, the changes in the organizational structure will mean less.”

Matt:  “I assume the story will have at least one good guy and one bad guy.  Start with the good guy.”

Jordan:  “GM’s CEO in the mid to late 1970’s was an example for everyone to follow, CEO on down.”

Matt:  “Who was that?”

Jordan:  “T.A. Murphy.  Or as he used to say when I answered my boss’ phone after hours, ‘Tell him Thomas Aquinas Murphy is calling.’”

Matt:  “You mean the CEO made his own phone calls?”

Jordan:  “Yes, made his own phone calls.  I told you he was a good example.”

Matt:  “Give me a meatier story…or two.”

Jordan:  “Some years before he became chairman, he was head of GM’s NY Treasurer’s Office.”

Matt:  “And…”

Jordan:  “Any time anyone from that office retired, he insisted on attending the retirement party.  We had to schedule the parties the night of the Board meeting to make sure he was available.”

Matt:  “Are you talking about executives retiring or anyone in the office?”

Jordan:  “Anyone, including the former elevator operator from the former GM building.”

Matt:  “So the CEO of the world’s largest company insists on attending retirement parties of former staff in the NY office…even elevator operators.  That is unusual.”

Jordan:  “Here’s one better.  And I’ll tell you I’ve never seen any written proof but I’ve heard the story from different source who know the parties involved.”

Matt:  “This I am anxious to hear.”

Jordan:  “Murphy is head of the NY office and a staff member – and we are not talking management or high-potential employee but a regular staff member – becomes an alcoholic.”

Matt:  “Does GM have a paid rehab program for alcohol and drug addiction?”

Jordan:  “Not at this time.  So the staff person enters treatment.  And guess who pays for the treatment?”

Matt:  “Murphy.  On his own or through the company?”

Jordan:  “His own checkbook.  Plus he visits her every day in the rehab center.”

Matt:  “Did anyone know about it?”

Jordan:  “I was not there at the time.  But, as I understand, Murphy never talked about it.  Others did only discretely.  I found out when she retired.”

Matt:  “What a great example.  Hard to believe.”

Jordan:  “I agree.  My facts might be off slightly but the essence of the story is correct.”

Matt:  “Any other stories?”

Jordan:  “Yes and one that always makes me smile.”

Matt:  “I’m ready.”

Jordan:  “I work in the NY office…still in my 20’s…and still learning the corporate ropes.  My job was fairly high profile – what they called ‘bag man’ to the chairman.  The ‘bag man’ coordinated all the presentations made at meetings of the Finance Committee and Board of Directors.”

Matt:  “So I suppose Mr. Bag Man spends serious face time with the Chairman.”

Jordan:  “You had to review all the key points with him and then get answers to a bunch of questions.  All the info was in what was called the ‘Red Book.’  And yes it was the color red.”

Matt:  “OK, now what?”

Jordan:  “At the time, the Board meetings were held in NY on the first Monday of every month.  The final review of the Red Book was Sunday afternoon on the plane.”

Matt:  “Company plane, I assume.”

AirplaneJordan:  “Gulfstream.  Now here’s the scene.  My first flight on the company plane.  And no one has briefed me on the dress protocol.  All they told me was don’t be late.”

Matt:  “So what did you wear?”

Jordan:  “The only clean clothes I had left were casual pants and turtleneck sweater…plus a sport coat.”

Matt:  “Was that OK?”

Jordan:  “I get on the plane…a 10 seater.  Eight people are dressed in suits.  My thoughts – just blew this opportunity.”

Matt:  “Then what?”

TurtleneckJordan:  “Mr. Murphy gets on the plane a few minutes later dressed in…guess what?”

Matt:  “Turtleneck sweater and sport coat.”

Jordan:  “You got it.  He sees how everyone else is dressed in a suit, then gives me a slight grin.”

Matt:  “Is there more to the story?”

Jordan:  “Next month same situation.  Only clean clothes are casual pants, turtleneck sweater and the same sport coat.  I head out to the plane, get on a few minutes ahead of the chairman.  Guess how the same eight guys are dressed?”

Matt:  “Turtleneck sweater and sport coats.”

Jordan:  “Exactly.  Then Murphy gets on the plane in a suit and tie.”

Matt:  “Seems as if these guys were always chasing and always two steps behind.”

Jordan:  “I still find the situation amusing…and frustrating.  The other executives forgot to be themselves.”

Matt:  “Interesting story and I agree amusing.  But why is it relevant?”

Jordan:  “Heads of companies are people.  Some CEO’s are extremely humble, gracious and thankful.  Others in that situation act as if they are kings with unlimited authority and no accountability.  More like a dictator.”

Matt:  “Your contention is companies reflect the personality of the person in charge.”

Jordan:  “Being humble and gracious does not mean one cannot be firm and hold people accountable.”

Matt:  “But you do not have to be a jerk or arrogant.”

Jordan:  “People want to respect those in leadership positions, whether it’s in business, religion or politics.  But respect does not necessarily come with the position.  Respect must be earned.”

Matt:  “And you believe leadership at GM earned respect…at least leadership through Tom Murphy.  Then it changed?”

Jordan:  “After Murphy the respect was lost…actually not earned.  And when the respect was gone, what went along with it?”

Matt:  “The economic engine that Sloan and other had built.”

Jordan:  “Now we can start to talk about some things that went terribly wrong at GM.”

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