CEOs At The Wheel

The CEOs of General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler have beentrying some public relations moves lately. They're saying that if Congress bails them out with billions, they will only take a dollar a year in salary. It's part of the "we all have to make sacrifices" approach. I guess they think it makes up for the fact that they made millions last year while their companies were going in the toilet and many of their employees lost their jobs. They probably also think this sacrifice says, "We care more about this industry and our country than we do about personal wealth." Yeah, right.

I know that what's happened to the auto business is not just the fault of these three guys. We can't blame them for the fact that fewer and fewer people have the money or can get the credit to buy cars these days. And there are all kinds of reasons why the American car business has a hard time competing with foreign manufacturers. But these are the guys at the helm. This is their watch. They are the ones getting the big bucks to take the credit or blame for their companies.

I rarely begrudge anyone a big salary. If an actor or an athlete makes $20 million a year, it doesn't bother me. For one thing, it's not coming out of my pocket. I also figure that whoever is paying them is making hundreds of millions. But there's something wrong with how the auto CEOs acted. Picture these execs, sitting down at the dinner table at home after work: CEO's WIFE: "How was work today?" CEO: "Pretty rough. I had to lay off 3,000 workers. Pass the caviar."

In another P.R. attempt, the CEOs decided to drive to Washington this time to ask Congress for money instead of taking their private jets. Was that stupidity or arrogance that guided them to get in those planes last time? Anyway, I don't think driving to Washington was enough of a gesture. For one thing, it was three guys going from the same place to the same place. Don't you think they could have carpooled? Of course, they never would have been able to agree on whose car to take.

Now, I've never been the CEO of a company. I didn't even appoint myself CEO when I had my own corporation. But maybe the business needs some fresh ideas today. So, if I were one of the CEOs, I would have challenged the other two guys to race to Washington in the cars their companies make. Winner gets the most money from Congress.

There would have been some rules. Each of them would have to have driven a five-year-old mid-level model. A lot of people would be interested in knowing how those cars drive when they aren't brand new. Another thing: it would make these executives look more human if their wives and kids were in the car for the road trip, too.

If they were really interested in good P.R, they'd have videotaped the whole drive. Besides, if the taxpayers are going to give or lend these companies billions of dollars, don't you think we deserve to see how their cars hold up on a 525-mile road trip? Wouldn't you like to see these guys dealing with things like driving in the snow, maybe having to jump a battery, and finding a roadside restaurant that all members of the family agree on? These men are paid for making big decisions. I would've loved to have seen how they handle a really big decision – like when their kid says he has to go to the bathroom two minutes after they've pulled away from a rest stop.

But I think the best public relations move for these guys would be for them to resign. And it's not too late. Resignation would really say that they care more about the country and their industry than they do about personal wealth. Then they could take their millions and their stock options and go on a vacation. I'll bet that by the time they get home, some other big company will offer them a CEO job.

Why not? This is America where everybody deserves a second chance. And I have a feeling they will have learned from their earlier mistake. Oh, sure, they might run their new companies into the ground, too. But I'll bet when they go to Washington to ask Congress for another bailout for those new companies, they'll be smart enough to leave those private jets at home.