Friday, May 8, 2009


Chrysler in bankruptcy. I've been trying to figure out what it means.
Somehow, nothing feels different. In the back of my mind, I'm a little worried about my job, but then I've been worried about that for the last few years. Actually, at some level, I've been worried about that for my whole career. It seems like you get a few years of things going well and then about twice as many years of walking along the edge of the cliff, waiting for the company to fall off.

The weird thing is that, although I've worked professionally for 4 different companies, each who went through bad times with major layoffs and the future looking bleak, I've never been laid off from any of those companies. Maybe that's why I'm stupidly oblivious to the current situation.
On the other hand, everybody at work, just keeps working on the new cars we are planning and on making the current cars better. In fact, we are really busy. There is really nothing we can do to affect the bankruptcy court. So we just keep working hard until they come and tell us to go home.

But I don't really expect to be told to go home. When I think of bankruptcy, I think of a company that doesn't produce something people want to buy, you know, buggy whips or something. In spite of all the bad opinions of Chrysler in the press, the reality is that we make a number of cars that people buy and like. It just that nobody is buying cars right now.

Oh sure, we've got to do better. The last 10 years of Daimler and the Home Depot guy have been like living with a vampire who slowly sucks the life out of us. Maybe that's the most hopeful thing that makes bankruptcy seem OK. After all, it seems like Fiat really does know and like making cars and wants to build good ones. Let's hope so.

The other thing is that the best times, the best cars, have come after we came out of a bad time. I remember being at Chrysler when the last government bailout happened in the late 70's. Everything was doom and gloom, but at the time we were working on the minivan. Since this is our worst bad time ever, maybe we will make the best cars we ever did.

I am reminded of Charlie Lowther and his Business school professor who told his class that the bad times are usually not as bad as we worry they will be and the good times are never as good as we dream they will be.

So the next time I'm asked how am I doing with the bankruptcy, don't be surprised if I say, "I'm doing fine. How are you?"


  1. Every time I think of surviving a career in the auto industry I'm reminded of the final scene in the Steve McQueen movie "Papillon" where, having escaped Devil's Island, Papillon is floating to freedom on his coconut raft in the ocean and shouts back "Hey you bastards, I'm still here!"


  2. Doug,

    Great quote! It really sums the experience, doesn't it?

    Actually, that is a significant difference between this time and earlier times. In the past, when things got tough, I jumped, for example from Chrysler to VW. This time, because of previous experience and because I'm closer to retirement, I am clinging to the coconut raft with all my strength.

  3. Jac,

    I understand that "closer to retirement" mentality completely. There was enough issues the last few years that a younger me would have jumped ship and done something more sane with my life like go back to working in grubby motorcycle shops or becoming a corrupt politician.