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Yesterday’s GM, tomorrow’s..?

This past year has been a rough year for many people.  Unemployment skyrocketed.  People were being foreclosed on left and right and evicted before you could even finish reading the notice.  Stocks tumbled, super corporations filed bankruptcy and went under.  But most of all, Motor City USA was pummeled by this recession, with it coming to a head with the demise of a company once deemed too large to fail, General Motors.

After bailouts and bankruptcy, the GM brand is one that has been badly damaged.  One won’t know the extent for perhaps several years, and the outcome of the chain of events put into place by their June 1 bankruptcy filing, but the Associated Press reported of a popular method of reinvention.

On top of company restructuring, many companies also opt for renaming their brand.

The most recent example of this is our private military company (PMC) formerly known as Blackwater.  This PMC handled security in Iraq where U.S. forces were stretched too thin.  PMCs are almost exclusively ex-military, with most having special ops training, and are in many ways more capable than the U.S. military at engaging in urban warfare.  Things were going well for years, and business was booming for Blackwater until an accident involving Blackwater soldiers and the killing of several Iraqi civilians.  Upon ‘losing’ their contract (they just had to give business to another PMC and move their operations to other cities), Blackwater received mountains of negative press from media and government officials both at home and abroad.

So Blackwater sank, and Xe was born.

Xe is the same company, with a name impossible to recognize (or pronounce correctly on the first attempt), but it’s largely escaped the negative public eye and have gone onto business.

Looking at that, it makes sense to speculate that GM has some justification for considering the name change.  It blew through billions of taxpayer’s dollars just to file bankruptcy all the same a few months later.  That’s a lot of negativity for the company that once ran the American dream off the assembly lines of eight different brands.  The popular monikers for GM are now Government Motors (given how much of GM is owned by the government), or Greedy Motors (all the money it’s received).  The list goes on, but the message is clear.  The brand’s taken a beating.

But there is one thing that GM and Blackwater do not have in common, and it is perhaps the biggest thing to remember in this debate.

GM has a legacy.  People know what GM represented for years.  It has brand recognition, respect and in some cases, even hope for recovery.  Blackwater, and ValuJet (now AirTran) did not have a legacies.  Phillip Morris (now Altria Group) changed its business model and tobacco association would contradict their goals.

GM is still going to make cars, though fewer cars, but it’s still staying true to what the company is about.

As symbolic as GM has been for years, even with its tarnished and beaten reputation, there is something many need to understand.  Americans are a people of one of the greatest characteristics man can possess, and it is what has long separated the United States from the rest of the world.

Resilience.

In the beginning, America was a country that fought a war that seemed impossible to win for freedom.  Even when the country fractured and warred within itself, from the reformation emerged an even stronger nation.  And several times in the country’s history, the United States has found a way to create prosperity in the depths of depression.

For GM to re-establish itself as it once was, it will take a lot of sacrifice, hard work and time. General Motors will again become America’s brand; a brand that Americans can be proud of.

2 comments so far

I am happy to read into the article what I think the author was trying to point out: that we can’t let our industrial icons lose any more esteem on the world stage than they already have. I’m not excusing malfeasance or mismanagement among the corporate officers who may have lived too high on the hog while forgetting the little people on the line. But a new and improved GM could be a viable representative of the new American economy.

I’m glad you used the Blackwater story as an example here. It illustrates how corporations have always worked to get around legislation that everyone else is required to adhere to. I think the “inside” agreement system that is being exposed lately – Wall Street, Madoff – should show everyone how things really work, and make them mad enough to stop it.

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