Deathbed Conversions of the Big Three U.S. Automakers Are Unreliable


What we are witnessing from the Big Three--Ford, General Motors and Chrysler--is nothing more than deathbed conversions.

Maybe the word "earn" is as inaccurate as the word "make." No one really earns or makes $10,000 per hour.

Would the word "deserve" be more accurate? No, that doesn't work either. No one deserves $10,000 per hour.

The word "collect" sounds too socialistic. The word "steal" sounds too criminal. The phrase "rip off" sounds too dishonest.

Maybe the question should be: What did Mulally accomplish, which made Ford's corporate board think he should be paid $10,000 per hour?

Twice passed over to be the CEO of Boeing, Mulally was hired in September 2006 with no experience in the automotive industry. His compensation was $21 million in 2007, which was equal to an hourly wage of more than $10,000, according to the New York Times. He was compensated more than his counterpart at General Motors. Compensation information was unavailable about his counterpart at Chrysler, the third member of the Big Three automakers.

Under Mulally's leadership, Ford lost in 2006 and 2007 a whopping $15.3 billion. Ford lost an unfathomable $2.9 billion in the third quarter of 2008.

So, what did Mulally accomplish that results in his receiving $10,000 per hour? Well, he accomplished losing $2.9 billion in the third quarter of 2008.

Another accomplishment was to deepen political and public opposition to the American automotive industry, thanks to flying in a corporate jet to beg for a bailout from Congress.

A recent CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll released last Wednesday found that 61 percent of those surveyed "are dead set against the federal government providing billions of dollars in assistance" to U.S. auto companies. Over half of Americans think government aid to the car companies will not help the economy.

A third accomplishment was Mulally�s failed publicity stunt last week to show Ford�s willingness to sacrifice for the corporate good in order to get public funds. He drove in a Ford hybrid from Detroit to Washington, D.C., and told the nation he would work next year for $1.

Since Ford pays Mulally a $10,000 hourly wage, imagine what Ford pays the second-in-command? What about the other Ford corporate chieftains? How many thousands of dollars per hour do they make? What about Ford�s lobbyist, the legal team and the public relations department? Will all the corporate elites sacrifice for the public good with comparable compensation reductions? Will the board of directors at Ford make personal sacrifices, beginning with their repayment of fees and stocks to the corporation for their failure to demand accountability for a well-run corporation? Will they resign?

Of course, only the most na�ve would give Ford's failed corporate leadership the benefit of trust, believing that the company can be turned around economically and morally, thinking that the company will finally produce environmentally friendly cars, support mass transit, pay its fair share in taxes for the common good and realistically compensate corporate leaders.

What we are witnessing from the Big Three--Ford, General Motors and Chrysler--is nothing more than deathbed conversions.

With GM claiming that it may not survive the month and the others making dire statements, the Big Three are confessing pride, greed and selfishness and professing humility, sacrifice and a commitment to the common good.

Considering their desperate need for public funding, can the public trust the authenticity of their conversion?

Simply put, conversion means turning around and moving in a new direction. That suggests meaningful action, tangible change and demonstrable results.

Convicted felon Chuck Colson had a conversion after his involvement in the Nixon White House scandal. While he turned his heart over to Jesus, he kept his membership card in the party of laissez-faire economics and conservative policies for 30 years.

Even when he criticized the Big Three, he placed blame on the assembly-line workers and the UAW. Citing an article alleging that too many automotive workers didn't really work and got paid too much, Colson wrote that bankruptcy for the Big Three was the only way to "get rid of agreements with the UAW that keep it from being competitive."

Colson apparently didn't think that corporate compensation kept the Big Three from being competitive. He really gave the corporate CEOs a pass, asking for little accountability from corporate America.

If Colson's conversion is an example of what transformation means for corporate and conservative America, then we need to be doubly cautious about accepting the Big Three executives' claims of remorse and reformation.

Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.

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Tags: Charles Colson, Economy, Robert Parham