Daily Archives: November 20, 2008

Airline tickets and the collapse of the auto industry

I wonder if years from now historians will look back on the collapse of the U.S. auto industry and say, “Gee, they should have flown commercial”? Great theater in Congress yesterday, in case you missed it. The Detroit grand pooh-bahs were making their case for a financial bailout when two members had the temerity to ask how they made their way to Capitol Hill? Via commercial airline — or private jet?

Here’s the exchange.

Ah, c’mon Mr. or Ms. PR spokesperson. Liar, liar pants on fire. There may be good reasons to use a private jet. But security isn’t one of them. So it goes.

And you could almost hear the groans from those attending the hearing following the exchange between the congressman and the Big Three. Here’s Dana Milbank’s take on it in today’s Washington Post, “Auto Execs Fly Corporate Jets to D.C., Tin Cups in Hand“:

There are 24 daily nonstop flights from Detroit to the Washington area. Richard Wagoner, Alan Mulally and Robert Nardelli probably should have taken one of them.

Instead, the chief executives of the Big Three automakers opted to fly their company jets to the capital for their hearings this week before the Senate and House — an ill-timed display of corporate excess for a trio of executives begging for an additional $25 billion from the public trough this week.

“There’s a delicious irony in seeing private luxury jets flying into Washington, D.C., and people coming off of them with tin cups in their hands,” Rep. Gary L. Ackerman (D-N.Y.) advised the pampered executives at a hearing yesterday. “It’s almost like seeing a guy show up at the soup kitchen in high-hat and tuxedo. . . . I mean, couldn’t you all have downgraded to first class or jet-pooled or something to get here?”

By the way, from the photo that accompanies the Milbank article it looks like Wagoner and Nardelli just ate a shit sandwich. I digress.

The real point is this. I know that many who read this blog are students and former students, now young professionals. What we are seeing play out now is a real-world lesson on the key points that we look at constantly in public relations and media ethics classes. The need for honest, truthful two-way communication. The reality that reputation matters — and that reputation ultimately hinges on confidence and trust.

George Voinovich, Ohio’s senior senator, is quoted in the Akron Beacon Journal this morning as follows.

If GM is telling the truth [emphasis added by me] they go into bankruptcy and you see a cascade like you have never seen. If people want to go home and not do anything, I think that they’re going to have that on their hands.

The problem is that the American people have lost faith in business and political leaders to tell the truth — and we don’t trust them to get anything right. It started in Iraq. Maybe it ends now in Detroit. We’ll see.

Oh, one more thing. I go to Washington on business now once a month or so. I take a commercial flight out of Cleveland. George Voinovich has been on that flight with me twice.