Why Steve Jobs should run General Motors

General Motors is looking for tens of billions of bailout dollars from the Feds to stave off bankruptcy. Here's a simpler solution: Get Steve Jobs to take over the top slot at GM. So says the New York Times' Thomas Friedman, and despite my dislike of Jobs, I think Friedman is right.

In his column, Friedman writes about watching a TV interview earlier this year with Chrysler CEO Bob Nardelli, who said the auto industry needed $25 billion in loan guarantees, not as a bailout, but to help car companies innovate. His response:

I could not help but shout back at the TV screen: "We have to subsidize Detroit so that it will innovate? What business were you people in other than innovation? If we give you another $25 billion, will you also do accounting?"

The column then goes on to enumerate the bone-headed, short-sighted idiocy of the U.S. auto industry, which has fought innovation every step of the way, and refused to look at the future. For example, he quotes GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz saying that hybrids, such as the Toyota Prius, "make no economic sense." Lutz also told D Magazine of Dallas that global warming "is a total crock of [expletive]."

In return for any bailout, Friedman proposes, the current management and board of GM should go, to be replaced with people capable of turning around the business. After adding other strings that should be attached to a bailout, he offers up this one, slightly tongue in cheek:

Lastly, somebody ought to call Steve Jobs, who doesn't need to be bribed to do innovation, and ask him if he'd like to do national service and run a car company for a year. I'd bet it wouldn't take him much longer than that to come up with the G.M. iCar.

While I dislike Jobs for his arrogance, his vindictiveness, and the way he uses attack-dog lawyers to muzzle any criticism or dissent, he's probably one of the few people who could turn around G.M. He's a great innovator and designer, and understands what consumers are looking for. He did a brilliant job of turning around Apple. He might be able to do the same for G.M.

And if not Jobs, pick someone else from the tech industry to run G.M. The auto industry has been moribund and hidebound for decades, and incapable of innovation, while the tech industry has been the country's innovation engine. It's time for a tech exec to turn around Detroit.

But not Steve Ballmer, please. We've had madmen running the auto industry for long enough, and look what they've done. One more madman won't solve the problem.

Preston Gralla is a contributing editor for Computerworld, and the author of more than 35 books.

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