General Motors CEO Mary Barra appeared before a Senate panel once again Thursday to discuss the company’s flawed ignition switches and vowed that GM will “do all it can to make certain that this does not happen again.”
In terms of damage control, much of what Barra and GM appear to be doing right now is positive: fessing up about product failures, bringing in outside investigators and firing employees that failed to take appropriate measures.
And while these are important steps, they amount only to a good, if somewhat belated, crisis management strategy. In fact, these efforts pale against the very real organizational challenges that lay ahead for GM and Barra. In order make good on her promise to Congress, Barra must prevent the kinds of engineering failures that caused the ignition problems in the first place and the organizational failures that propelled the problem to its current tragic magnitude. And that will mean changing the culture at GM.
Engineers like to be right. They like to prove that they have the correct answer.
Highly trained and highly motivated to solve problems, at the point of releasing a design or demonstrating a model or a prototype, everything in them is wired to prove that they’ve arrived at the right answer. The premium is so high on being “right” that even when data starts proving them wrong, they work to show that they are right somehow. They seek to explain what is happening is an exceptional outlier or an aberration; not that it is a sign of a problem. Read More »
U.S. inflation has been accelerating in recent months, presenting the Federal Reserve with a tricky question as it decides how quickly to remove stimulus from the U.S. economy: Is the rise in prices a precursor of things to come or simply a “catching up” phase as people begin to spend again after a brutal winter?
Recent data from the U.S. Labor Department have led some to suggest that the long run of very low U.S. inflation could be ending. From Dec. 31 through May 31, the consumer price index — not seasonally adjusted — rose a cumulative 2.1 percent. That’s equivalent to an annualized inflation rate of more than 5 percent, far exceeding the Fed’s target of about 2 percent.
If this is more than a temporary phenomenon, the Fed might have to respond by raising interest rates sooner than expected — a move that would restrain economic growth and could trigger sharp declines in stock and bond markets.
Some officials at the Fed, though, reportedly do not believe that the surge in consumer prices represents the beginning of a new inflationary trend. After all, in the period just before the winter, from Sept. 30 to Dec. 31, prices actually fell by a cumulative 0.5 percent. Combine the two periods, one with an increase and one with a small drop, and you get an annualized inflation rate since September of about 2.4 percent.
It’s an old business rubric: What gets measured, gets managed.
In the age of big data, the very basic set of measurements that managers used to rely on is expanding to a robust set of 24/7 sensor inputs from factory floors to off-shore petroleum platforms – all of it accessible across a wide variety of mobile devices to employees at many levels.
Management is now able to access data from varied locations, crunch it at headquarters and then return the enhanced data to managers out in the field, on the factory floor or on the oil fields. These new, more robust data sets will allow managers to make better decisions in a shorter amount of time than ever before. For companies in complex industries, such as Shell where I work, the potential for increased performance, efficiency and safety is enormous. Read More »
Most of the famous entrepreneurs we hear about are fairly young. We tend to read in the popular press about the Mark Zuckerbergs of the world and assume that all successful entrepreneurs launch businesses in their 20s. However, this couldn’t be further from reality.
Recent studies show that older entrepreneurs are increasing while the number of younger entrepreneurs is decreasing. According to the Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity, the share of entrepreneurs in the 55-64 age group jumped from 14.3 percent in 1996 to 23.4 percent in 2012. In contrast, the share of entrepreneurs in the youngest age group of 20-34-year-olds decreased from 34.8 percent in 1996 to 26.2 percent in 2012.
When I read that Amazon was in talks to partner with big fashion retailers like J. Crew, Abercrombie & Fitch and Neiman Marcus, it got my attention. Despite Amazon’s leadership position in online retail, you typically don’t associate these higher-end clothing retailers with a mainstream site that targets essentially everyone.
If we were talking about a partnership between Amazon and Wal-Mart WMT -0.94% or even Costco, that would be far less surprising because of their parallels in broad customer bases and emphasis on low prices. But rather than partnering, Wal-Mart is making its own investments to level the playing field with Amazon. So why are fancier retailers like Neiman Marcus considering such a partnership? What are the risks? And do these risks outweigh the possible benefits? I think they do.