What We Can Learn From The Auto Industry

What We Can Learn From The Auto Industry

As Congress debates a bail out bill for America’s big three automakers it strikes me that what has happened to the once all-powerful automotive industry can happen to any of us.  If we lose sight of who we are at our core – and focus instead on what is secondary – we will be doomed.

 It is well documented that America’s auto industry has an over-inflated cost structure  that has made it difficult to compete against foreign rivals in the market they once dominated – cars.  But soaring sales of trucks, mini-vans and SUV’s covered lagging car sales and gave the illusion of success.  In the last ten to fifteen years, the American automotive industry relied on sales of trucks, mini-vans and SUV’s to provide the cash to keep it afloat, while it ignored the plunging popularity of it automobiles. 

As I walked down our street the other day I took non-scientific, random survey of the automobiles in this basic American neighborhood. There was not one GM, Ford or Chrysler car on our street.  It seems impossible doesn’t it?   There were a couple of American mini-vans, and SUV’s ( I have one of each) but when it comes to cars, there was not a single GM, Ford or Chrysler on my street.  This is astonishing to me in a macro sense, but in a micro sense it’s not surprising.  When I think about my friends, I realize that I don’t know anyone with a GM, Ford or Chrysler car.  What happened and why is important to Vision For Your Life.

The “Big Three” lost track of the core of their business and became intoxicated by the illusion of success in trucks and SUV’s. When the bottom fell out of the truck and SUV market, the automobile industry was left with what used to be their greatest strength, as their greatest vulnerability.

I asked my friend Regis about this.  He owns three fabulous French restaurants in New York City ( Orsay, La Goulue, and Brasserie Ruhlmann)  and I wondered if what had happened in the auto industry was comparable to people in the restaurant business relying on the sale of alcohol instead of food to make their restaurant a success.  He said, “The only thing we create is what’s on the plate.  Someone else created the wine and we are simply serving it.”  In other words a restaurant is in the food business and if it makes the mistake of focusing on the bar it will fail because it is not focusing on the one thing it creates – the food.   I remember my first time at Orsay last summer and the food was fantastic. For days and weeks after we were still talking about how great the food was.  I liked the wine too, but I can get the wine anywhere – I can only get that food at Orsay.

The same principle is true for us.  When we focus on what might give us the most immediate benefit we can get caught sacrificing the attention we should be giving to our core.  For example, let’s say you graduate from college and there is a job available in the accounting department so you take that job.  Over the next few years you get promotions and an advanced degree and when you are forty years old you are an accountant.  But that skill set, and the accompanying paycheck may have kept you from living out of your core and leveraging what was the best of who you are. 

When you live out of gifts instead of your “Core Motivator” it is like eating French food.  The best part of French food is the sauce, but if you only eat the sauce you will starve of malnutrition.  You get your sustenance from the meat, and in the same way you get your personal sustenance from your “Core Motivator.”

At forty you are being passed over because you have reached the end of your gifts set.  You’ve reached the end of trucks and SUV’s and discover that people haven’t been buying your cars for years.  Or, people have stopped coming to your restaurant because the food isn’t very good and you are no longer the trendy bar in town.  Now you are in crisis because someone else has spent their time focusing on their core and they are outpacing you.  While you were building trucks and SUV’s they were building great cars.  While you were expanding your “happy hour,” they were perfecting great food.

You can catch up, but it will be difficult and painful.  You can recover, but you don’t need a quick cash infusion that will only enable you to continue moving in the wrong direction.  You need a new  (renewed) vision based on your “Core Motivator” – who you are – and you need to focus again on that which is uniquely you.  You will only really succeed by leveraging “who” you are to your greatest advantage.

You must regain – or perhaps obtain for the first time – the confidence that you can build a better car and make better food than your competitors because it is congruent with your “Core Motivator.”  You will succeed if you focus on living fully out of who you are.

As the economy continues to go south it will be tempting to gravitate to those things that can provide immediate cash flow.  Don’t’ make the mistake of sacrificing the core of who you are in order to get an immediate, temporary provision.  Being out of work now is not as bad as being out of work again in eighteen months because you took the wrong job now.  Sacrificing your core to focus on immediate gratification is a long-term mistake and you might just end up – like the automakers – begging the government to bail you out.

Know Who You Are And Be It!

About the author / bobperkins

Latest comments

  • Mike Sambrook
    November 21, 2008 at 10:33 am Reply

    Great article Bob…. of course, the real question is, even if they get back to their core, can the big 3 make a better car than the Japanese…. and by the way, what is so wrong with personal gov’t bailouts…. it’s my money anyway, I’m just taking it back!

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