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7/3/2006
01:51 PM
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Proposed GM-Nissan-Renault Deal: Innovative Or Unpatriotic?

A friend who works in IT at General Motors has been keeping some odd hours lately. GM is in the process of creating one global IT organization, and my friend is working with IT pros on the other side of the world who are pouring their morning tea just as most Michiganders are getting ready to call it a night.

A friend who works in IT at General Motors has been keeping some odd hours lately. GM is in the process of creating one global IT organization, and my friend is working with IT pros on the other side of the world who are pouring their morning tea just as most Michiganders are getting ready to call it a night.So I'm not at all surprised GM is considering an alliance with Japan's Nissan Corp. and France's Renault that includes selling those companies a significant financial stake in GM. Motown reactions range from "This is the end of the world as we know it" to "Well, could it help save one of the great American companies?" But whether this particular deal happens or not, there's no stopping this train: From IT to manufacturing, GM is on a track to make "buy American" an outdated cliché. It's becoming a global company--period--and there's a lot more to that than strong sales in China and IT outsourcing in India. It means thinking of the world as your game board--not just Detroit and Flint, not just the U.S.--and what moves and strategies are going to result in a win.

Sadly, too many Americans have a problem with this concept. Some are certainly smirking over the irony that the GM-Nissan-Renault deal proposed by GM's largest single shareholder, Kirk Kerkorian, would come to light over the Fourth of July weekend, when flag-waving patriotism is at its peak. A Detroit Free Press columnist sums up how many feel about the deal: "...foreign automakers have steadily chipped away at this lucrative market, selling vehicles while GM was supporting retirees. Now we're supposed to set a place at the table for these folks who have been eating our lunch?"

True, any such deal could take some of the American out of GM. It could cause a power shift that leads to even more cost cuts and more Michigan layoffs and sap some control from GM executives who truly care about the company's roots. But if this deal falls through, please let it be because the risks to the business outweigh the possible benefits. Xenophobia and the desire to be a 100%-true-blooded American company can't be the strategies in this game.

Detroit's automakers have to be smart and innovative about how they're going to survive in the global economy, and not clutch to the ideals of a 20th Century American company. To be truly American is to understand that success isn't possible without risk, innovation, willingness to change, and even some pain. To let fear of change play a role in the failure of a great American company--to become an employer to no one--is one of the most unpatriotic acts I can imagine.

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