Entrepreneurial Leadership and Management . . . and Other Stuff


Don’t Be a Deadfoot Manager

Poland road sign A-23. Danger upward slope.

Image via Wikipedia

A “deadfoot” driver is one who keeps the accelerator pedal at the same position regardless of the slope or condition of the road they are on.  As such, they often climb hills at 40mph and descend them at 80mph.  They also tend to be the people lying with the shiny side of the car facing down just beyond a slick patch of pavement.  You get the idea and you know who I’m talking about.

This deadfoot phenomena actually happens more frequently in management than on the road.  Managers adopt a single style and apply it no matter who is being managed or what the situation is.  The results are the same, though.  Deadfoot managers crash and burn more frequently.

Sometimes, this is because the manager doesn’t know any better – management is management, right?  And at other times, when people are stressed, they tend to fall back on what they know and on what has worked before.  For individual performers, this may work.  For someone responsible for a group of people, it almost never does.

Not only does managerial style need to change for each individual being managed (see It’s OK to Micromanage . . . Sometimes), but it needs to be further adjusted situationally.  At times, a different style is needed to address the then current performance of an employee and at times because the macro-environment has changed, creating new or different demands on the group or its members.

As I’ve spoken about before, managers are the cornerstone of success – they have more leverage over the performance of an organization than any individual performer can ever have.  Successful managers learn to adjust their management style for every person they manage and according to the situation that the group and the individual are in. 

It’s important to keep in mind that the actual changes to style are often subtle – the frequency of meetings or reviews; the amount of teaching and hand-holding versus delegating; and the percentage of time spent guiding versus simply checking in.

Managers who constantly adapt to their situation and to the particular needs of each of their employees will avoid becoming a deadfoot manager and, ultimately, be well equipped to lead the highest performance teams.

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 February 4th, 2009  
 Management, Stuff with a Motor  

Why Do People Speed Up As You Pass Them?

You know how it works.  You’re driving along in the left lane at some reasonable speed – OK, it’s usually above the posted limit – and you get stuck behind someone driving more slowly than you are (usually in a Subaru, but frequently in a Volvo).  You pray they realize that you’re about to scrape the chrome off their bumper with yours or are blinded by your headlights causing them to pull over.  Usually, this takes forever, but eventually, most drivers get the message and move to a slower lane.  Then, as you’re passing them, they speed up.  WTF?

Sometimes they increase their speed just to match your speed, sometimes they actually end up going faster than you.  But in all cases, they are going way faster than they were when you got stuck behind them.  Once you get sick of this little cat and mouse game, you speed up even more to get the whack-job further behind you.  It’s then you realize that they are imploding into a spec in your rear view mirror – once you were by them, they returned to their initial plodding velocity.

I can’t be sure, but I suspect I might do this unconsciously as well.  Or, at least, some slightly less insane version of it.  What in human psychology causes this to happen?

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 February 2nd, 2009  
 Stuff with a Motor  

Geez, I wonder how “The Beast” Handles?

President Obama has a brand new car.  Sadly, this kinda thing is necessary when you’re the most powerful man in the world.  The car, nicknamed “The Beast,” but known as “Cadillac One” by many is not the standard limo ride available to ordinary citizens.  The features are in the graphic (courtesy of Jalopnik), below.

Cadillac One

I especially like the doors . . . “Armour-plated, eight inches thick and the weight of a cabin door on a 757 jet.”

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 January 20th, 2009  
 Stuff with a Motor  
 1 Comment

Best Selling Cars of 2008

I’m certainly not here to defend the big three US auto makers or to say that the huge hole they’ve dug for themselves isn’t completely justified, but I find it interesting that so many people are criticizing the companies for not listening to car buyers.  “If they listened to the consumer,” so many say, “they’d be building smaller cars.”

On the surface, this seems like a reasonable point of view, but the numbers don’t completely back this up.  In December of last year, three of the top ten selling vehicles in the US were trucks.  Yup, big fat American pickups.  And, five of the top ten vehicles were American.  Now, while there’s reasonable argument that American manufacturers should dominate this list, five out of ten isn’t horrible (I suspect, by the way, that sales of the Impala are probably driven by fleet purchases – this isn’t a negative, loads of Camry’s and Accords are also sold into fleets).  I also think this indicates that the companies were, in fact, listening to the buying public who was clamoring for pickups.  Keep in mind that half of Toyota’s products are trucks (and SUVs) and they are not on the list.

December 2008’s Top 10 Best-Selling Cars

  • Ford F-Series: 41,580
  • Chevy Silverado: 33,340
  • Toyota Camry: 25,275
  • Honda Accord: 22,348
  • Toyota Corolla: 22,129
  • Chevy Impala: 21,148
  • Chevy Malibu: 17,355
  • Nissan Altima: 17,311
  • Honda Civic: 17,302
  • Dodge Ram: 16,618

For the year, the leading pickups from the Big 3 are on the top ten list (the Ford F-150 is at the top of both lists as it has been for a zillion years), but America’s contribution to the list drops to 4/6.

The Top 10 Best-Selling Cars of 2008

  • Ford F-Series: 515,513
  • Chevy Silverado: 465,065
  • Toyota Camry: 436,617
  • Honda Accord: 372,789
  • Toyota Corolla: 351,007
  • Honda Civic: 339,289
  • Nissan Altima: 269,668
  • Chevy Impala: 265,840
  • Dodge Ram: 245,840
  • Honda CR-V: 197,279

As I’ve discussed before, while there are loads of real reasons that American cars don’t occupy the majority of slots on the list, the primary reason is the crappy perception Americans have of the quality of products from the Big 3. This perception comes from the fact that GM, Ford and Chrysler built garbage vehicles for almost two decades starting in the late 70s/early 80s.  Most people won’t cut these companies any slack and give their new offerings a spin, however, so recent products from Detroit haven’t gotten their fair shake or a chance to change people’s opinions.

My guess (and hope) is that the top ten list for 2009 will include more American cars, the same pickup trucks.  Some of this will be driven purely by economics – American cars are once again cheaper than market-comparable vehicles from other countries and exchange rates aren’t helping foreign manufacturers.  Some of this will happen because, inevitably, people will once again give American cars a chance and word will spread.  Of course, I expect the overall totals to be down significantly.

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 January 20th, 2009  
 Stuff with a Motor  

Time to Buy a Car?

1119-biz-webPORTSsubWhat little I know about economics tells me that when supply exceeds demand, prices fall, right?  If that still holds true in today’s whacked out economy, the information in this article in the New York Times today tells me that if one is in the market for a new vehicle and can find some way of borrowing money for it, there will be bargains – big bargains – to be had.

According to the article, there is “a sea of Corollas, Camrys and RAV4s” at the 150 acre Long Beach port where the cars enter the U.S.  And, lest one concludes that it’s just low-end cars piling up, there is also a huge number of Mercedes consuming real estate there.  Perhaps even more telling, the tractor trailers that transport the cars to dealerships are also on the lot, sitting idle.  Dealers are refusing cars because their lots are similarly full.

Several auto manufacturers are leasing space at the terminal because they don’t know what to do about the cars.  Yikes!

Considering I’m not in the market for a car, would it be cruel just to drop by a car dealer and try to negotiate a great deal just for sport?  Yeah, that might even be evil.

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 November 19th, 2008  
 Economy, Stuff with a Motor  

What’s With All The GM Bashing?

General Motors Corporation

Image via Wikipedia

Let me put all my cards on the table.  Like my friend Shawn, I want GM and, in fact, all three American car manufacturers to make it through this current mess and to be hugely successful.  I can’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want this.  Aren’t more choices a good thing?  Isn’t competition good?  Any thoughts about punishing them for poor execution are just stupid.  The only punishment a company should get is what it receives in the marketplace.  Plain and simple.  Yeah, it’s more complex than that because it’s not a globally consistent playing field (do we think that French and Italian manufacturers aren’t routinely helped out by their governments?  Aren’t labor laws significantly different from country to country?).  GM, Ford and Chrysler have all received their fair share of well-deserved market punishment.  Is that reason enough for us to want them to fail?

In the last month I’ve run across many people caught up in the whole bailout question, not only accepting, but encouraging the demise of the American car companies, especially General Motors.  I’ve been surprised to hear things like, “they deserve to fail,” “they haven’t listened to the marketplace or their customers,” “they don’t innovate," “their cars are draining the planet of its natural resources” and “their cars are garbage.”  Geez, that’s harsh.

For sure, all three manufacturers have been slow to respond to changing wants and needs.  They all have often been guided by the classically American corporate need for instant returns and a fast buck.  This has left some truly great cars on the drawing boards.  Is there any doubt that American engineering is as good or better than Japanese or German engineering?  Corporate decisions on what makes it into consumer’s hands is what the problem is.

But I digress . . . let’s get back to the bashing which is coming from people who only have a passing concept of the relationship between an accelerator pedal and an engine and true autophiles, alike.  Before we decide that GM sucks and should be taken out back and shot, let’s look at the facts.

First, on not following the market or listening to customers.  Does anyone think that prior to gas prices skyrocketing people weren’t clamoring for SUVs and pickup trucks?  Take off the blinders folks.  That huge sucking noise you heard over the last decade was people pulling cash out of their wallets fast to buy bigger vehicles.  While Americans seem to love to blast their home town manufacturers for delivering big-ass cars that their customers actually wanted to buy, they don’t seem to want to acknowledge that during the same period, Toyota introduced loads-o-SUVs, made their Land Cruiser bigger and less fuel efficient, grew the Sequoia to the size of an oil tanker (necessary to carry all the fuel it needs) and introduced the huge Tundra pickup to compete with big American trucks.  If GM was missing the boat, wasn’t Toyota too?  GM listened and delivered.  As did every other car manufacturer in the world.  Big is what the buying public wanted and all manufacturers delivered.  Taking GM to task for this sounds like a double-standard to me.

This stands true on the other end of the spectrum, in the small car world, as well.  For sure, GM has not been great in the small car market, but did it deliver what it’s customers wanted?  The answer is yes.  The fact is that the group of car buyers looking for small cars were more often driven to that decision because of the purchase price of the car than they were because of how miserly it sipped fuel.  As such, GM offered several inexpensive cars to meet this demand.  In general, we equate small cars and fuel efficiency, assuming that people who buy them are looking to drive further on a tank of gas.  The data shows, however, that at best, fuel efficiency was a secondary concern and that low cost of entry is what the consumer was really looking for.  Again, there is no indication that GM ignored the market or its customers.

Secondly, on innovation.  I totally agree that GM looks like a company that didn’t innovate much over the last 20 years.  As a customer of a couple of companies that I ran over that period, I can tell you that they always had loads of cool products and technologies being worked on.  The fact is, corporate decisions kept most of these from reaching the consumer.  So, it’s easy to see why people don’t equate GM and innovation, but that is not the fact.  Google “GM and hydrogen fuel cells,” “GM and hybrids” or “GM and engines” and check out the cool stuff that’s gotten past GM’s PR blockade.

Thirdly, on quality.  GM and it’s American brethren have a lot of making up to do in this category after producing some seriously crappy cars for a lot of years.  But it’s not like they have to get around to producing higher quality cars, they have been doing it for many years now and continue to do it.

According to the JD Power study on initial quality for midsize cars (the competitive segment that the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord are in), the three cars ranked in the top category (the best cars) are the Chevrolet Malibu, Mitsubishi Galant and Ford Fusion.  The Toyota Camry is ranked one step lower, in the “Better than most” category and the Honda Accord is ranked two steps lower than the cars in the “Above average” category.  Let’s see, that’s two out of the three top slots taken by American car companies, one by GM.  Hmmm.

In the ultra-hot Compact Multi Activity Vehicle segment, the Ford Escape and the Chrysler PT Cruiser are ranked in the same category as the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V – all are “Among the best.”

Even in the Midsize Multi Activity Vehicle segment, the Chevrolet Trailblazer and Dodge Durango are ranked “Among the best” along with the Toyota Highlander and Hyundai Santa Fe in initial quality.

There are, sadly, few American entries in the Compact Car segment, and those don’t fair well.  Funny enough, like with compacts and premium vehicles (dominated by the Germans) the American companies also show poor results in Large Cars.  Large Multi Activity Vehicles (SUVs) and Large Premium Multi Activity Vehicles (high end SUVs) have several entries with American Cars being “Among the best.”

In terms of JD Power’s dependability rankings, the rankings of how well cars that are a few years old are holding up . . . in midsize cars, the sole leader is the Buick Century, the famed Toyota Camry is in the next category, “Better than most” along with the Mercury Sable, Buick LaCrosse and Ford Taurus.

In most other categories, American cars don’t do quite as well, although many are in the “Better than most” category.  This is because building a wide variety of quality vehicles is still rather new to American car companies and dependability ratings are based on the performance of older cars.

Finally, on fuel economy.  According to fueleconomy.gov, of the top 10 highest mileage family sedans (4-door, any number of cylinders, any fuel type, automatic transmission) sold in America, four are American (2 are Toyotas, including the Prius; 2 are Nissans; one is a Kia and one is a Hyundai).  Of the four American cars, all are made by General Motors.

If you look at SUVs (any size, any number of cylinders, any fuel type, automatic transmission, 2 and 4 wheel drive), American cars, occupy 9 of the top 10 slots, including the first 8.  Before you say, of course, that’s obvious, consider that there are loads of foreign cars in this segment and that the the best American car in  the segment, the Ford Escape Hybrid with Front wheel drive gets 34 mpg in the city and 31 on the highway.  The vaunted Toyota RAV4 is 16th on the list with 22 mpg city and 28 highway.  Keep that in mind next time you chuckle about the how poor the mileage is in the huge Cadillac Escalade Hybrid at 20 mpg city and 21 highway.  In fact, here’s an interesting comparison.


City MPG

Highway MPG

Cadillac Escalade Hybrid 20 21
Toyota Sequoia 14 19
Toyota Land Cruiser 13 18

Whoa!  You say.  That’s not fair, you’re comparing a hybrid with non-hybrids.  True, but the Toyotas don’t come as hybrids.  If you take the stance that GM isn’t innovative, you can’t play it both ways.  In fact, the hybrid in the Escalade is extraordinarily innovative with the electric motor inside the transmission.

Even better, the Escalade hybrid gets 20 mpg combined (city and highway) and the Toyota Camry (6-cylinder) gets 23 mpg combined.  When I hear how crappy the Escalade’s mileage is from people, I have to wonder, compared to what?  Sure, a Prius gets better mileage, but you can park two of them in an Escalade.  Comparing apples-to-apples, it’s hard to knock what GM is doing with respect to fuel efficiency.

Look, I’m no shill for the American auto industry or GM.  I own one American car and it’s made by The General.  I also own several German and Japanese cars.  I think they’re all great.  All I’d like to communicate here is that GM and the other American car manufacturers deserve more recognition than they are being given by the buying public.  Of course, that’s not the consumer’s problem, The Big Three have augured themselves into a hole.  I just think it would be great if we gave them greater consideration when looking for a new vehicle.  They’ve actually already earned it.  We just don’t know about it yet.

It took the Japanese about 25 years to go from having the reputation of selling “cheap Japanese shit” to selling “the highest quality cars on the planet.”  The Germans similarly took decades to earn the position they have now in the consumer’s mind.  GM stockholders don’t have the kind of patience and GM certainly doesn’t have the money to make that work.  Having more car companies is a good thing and having American car companies is a good thing.   If we simply are willing to give them a try before their reputation rebounds, we might be able to cut their return to success by ten years.  In the end, we’re not giving anything to them.  They still have to earn it which, in my opinion, they greatly already have.  It’s just a secret.

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 November 18th, 2008  
 Stuff with a Motor  

Separated at Birth?

2008 Acura MDX
 Predator 5


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 November 13th, 2008  
 Stuff with a Motor  
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Track Day with the CTS-V

This past weekend, my buddy Shawn and I attended an intro for the new Cadillac CTS-V, Caddy’s high-performance, mid-size sedan.  The event took place at the incredible Monticello Motor Club in New York, a members-only race track – sorta like a golf club for people with high octane fuel in their veins.

The CTS-V is General Motor’s attempt at building a vehicle that outperforms BMW’s legendary M5 sedan in every way.  The first generation CTS fell short.  This new vehicle, however, is the fastest sedan to ever lap Germany’s famous Nurburgring – a twisty racetrack which is used to benchmark all of the world’s fastest cars.  Doing well on this track is indicative of a well-rounded sports car, not just a car that goes fast in a straight line.

The weather was sucky – cold and wet – but it did give us a chance to see how well the CTS-V stuck to the pavement.  The car did great.  Better than its driver, in my case.  Although, unlike another guy the day before, I didn’t run my car into a guardrail.  

The CTS-V’s 6.2L supercharged engine has 556 HP and 551 lb-ft of torque.  It accelerates its host chassis to 60 MPH in just 3.9 seconds.  The manual shifter and short-throw, light-as-a-feather clutch were a pleasure, as long as you remembered to shift.  There’s so much torque, I slammed the engine against the rev-limiter twice.  The second time at 105 MPH in third gear.

Is the car better than an M5?  Well, we didn’t drive ‘em back-to-back, but the CTS-V is certainly very nice.  Road and Track magazine did a comparison and gives the nod to the CTS-V.  The M5 is a few years older and BMW will certainly come out with something amazing in its next rev.  But for now, it looks like Caddy has delivered on its promise.  Oh, by the way, the Caddy, similarly equipped, costs about $30,000 less.   Hmm, let me think . . .

All you General Motors bashing, BMW fanboys will have a million excuses why Cadillac cannot possibly dethrone a German autobahn cruiser.  I, for one, am rooting for the home team.  Competition is great and I’d love for the General to be a real player.

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 November 12th, 2008  
 Stuff with a Motor  

The General’s Volt Intro Overshadowed by Wall Street Calamity

Picture from New York Times

General Motors can’t seem to catch a break.  Today, the company unveiled the production version of its Volt electric car (officially a Chevrolet).  The Volt is different from current hybrids in that it is entirely driven by it’s electric motors, not by a combination of electric and gasoline engines.  There is a gasoline engine on board, but its sole function is to charge the car’s batteries.  Other firms have announced “plug-in” electric cars, but most don’t also offer a small engine for recharging on the go.

Too bad almost no one noticed as that big sucking sound on Wall Street (like a toilet flushing cash down the drain) distracted everyone who might buy this vehicle. 

GM has an awful lot staked on this car which is set to go on sale in 2010 as a 2011 model.  Let’s all hope that more people take notice as this car takes shape.  It’s difficult to find anyone cheering for GM or the Volt these days (check out the comments in the Times article referenced above).  I don’t get it.  You don’t have to buy the cars if you don’t want to, and what good could possibly come out of their failing in this venture?

Go General!

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 September 17th, 2008  
 Stuff with a Motor  

A Diesel-Electric Hybrid Arrives . . . for Boats

I have previously talked about the potential advantages of combining powerful (torquey) diesel engines with electric motors into diesel-electric hybrid powerplants.  Like their gasoline-electric brethren that have become the poster child of all things green, an electric motor can be used to augment the fossil fuel powered engine where it needs it most and getting more running time and/or power out of less fuel.

I proposed that combining a diesel motor with an electric one made even more sense than combining gasoline and electric motors since (on an apples-to-apples basis compared to a gasoline engine) 1) diesel engines are more powerful, 2) diesel engines get better gas mileage, 3) diesels  produce less carbon dioxide and with new low-sulfur fuel, produce the same levels of nitrogen oxide and particulates as gasoline and, 4) according to the Department of Energy, if 30 percent of the passenger cars and light-duty trucks in the U.S. had diesel engines, U.S. net crude oil imports would be reduced by 350,000 barrels per day.

For sure, diesel engines aren’t perfect.  In fact, they have a lot of trouble at lower engines speeds.  Diesels like to generate a lot of power, but only within a relatively narrow RPM band.  That’s why they are frequently coupled with turbo-chargers – the turbos help keep them within their best performing engine speed.  So, what if an electric motor is used for this purpose instead?  My feeling is that it’d be like peanuts and chocolate; peas and carrots; well, you get the idea.

Steyr-Hybrid Well, no auto company has has announced such a product, but it turns out that a third -party engine manufacturer has announced a marine engine that has wed diesel and electric technologies.  Steyr Motors is now shipping their MO 256/H45 diesel-electric hybrid marine engine that couples a 250hp Steyr diesel engine with a 48 volt 14hp electric motor.  The engine is designed to fit nicely into “pleasure boats” (boats for individuals) – both new and as replacement engines in older ones.  The engine can be directed to run in diesel-only mode, electric-only mode, or with with both motors simultaneously.

Since diesel motors don’t run at idle well (a necessity for boats cruising through no-wake zones), the electric motor can propel the boat it’s installed in at about 5 knots silently.  As more speed is demanded by the pilot, the engine seamlessly cuts over to all diesel or, if loads of power is required, the electric motor can stay engaged to help the diesel motor get the boat up to speed ASAP.

Unlike with an automotive application, there is no regenerative braking of course – that is, charging the batteries with energy transferred during braking.  Instead, the engine needs to be used to charge the batteries.  Apparently, the electronics optimize this process, but it still requires fuel to generate all of the recharging power.  In the end, the setup would be more efficient in a car, but it seems to work nicely in the marine application.

Steyr provides an example that demonstrates the advantages of the engine.  They replaced the engines of an older pleasure boat – a 34′ cabin cruiser with twin gasoline 225hp engines that cruised at 21 knots and burned 20 gallons per hour.  The same boat with two of their new diesel-electric hybrids cruised at 25 knots and burned 12 gallons per hour.  So, it’s faster and consumes much less fuel.  Sounds pretty cool.

I’m sure some of the efficiencies demonstrated above could be achieved merely by putting more modern engines of any type in the boat.  Engine mechanics have gotten better and engine management has gotten much better.  But still, those are big improvements.

Now we need someone to step up to the plate and put this technology to work in a car.  That’s where it’ll really shine.

 September 2nd, 2008  
 Stuff with a Motor