I’m about to walk out of my office at the Press-Register for the last time, and in about a month I’ll be leaving the city I’ve lived in longer than any other in my life, Mobile. I’m wistful enough about it already, so I’ll let Dolly do my talking for me as I take this last stroll down the stairs to the employee parking lot.
Guys, I have a new favorite Icelandic band (sorry Bjork!). If they just subbed in a violin for the accordion, this might be my favorite song of the year.
The first three S’s could probably be found in MBA textbooks and company brochures in many countries and many languages. But the fourth S was highly unusual, especially in China.
4. Shanghai GM. The fourth S was the name of the 50-50 joint venture company itself. Point number four was far and away the most important S. This S said that every employee of the joint venture should put Shanghai GM first, above all. “When you came to work for SGM, you were no longer an employee of the shareholders (SAIC or GM),” explained a veteran GM executive in 2010. “You worked exclusively for Shanghai GM.”
With that simple yet powerful four-point message, Murtaugh and Hu dared to challenge convention they were declaring plans to build a close cooperation — a kind of cooperation never before witnessed in China’s automotive industry. From the top down, all employees were required to put Shanghai GM first.
Let’s get this out of the way first — American Wheels, Chinese Roads spends a lot of time focusing on my dad. In the index, he has the fourth-largest entry, right behind Buick and right ahead of United States of America. Michael Dunne’s book tells the story of General Motors rise to success since 1996. My dad was in charge of the operation for its first decade, and his job made me and my family move to Shanghai when I was 15 years old, so it’s impossible for me to read it without intertwining my own narrative with the book’s. For example, Dunne talks about a company Christmas party to illustrate the collegial atmosphere GM expats built — I remember it as the time my friend Warren and I snuck away from our parents and cadged drinks from the bar.
So take it with a silo full of salt that I found the book fascinating. Dunne lays out the history of the Chinese automotive industry, including several failed forays there by foreign manufacturers, before delving into how GM successfully built a partnership there that has propelled China to the world’s largest car market and now accounts for 40 percent of GM’s profits.
The tale is full of tight turns and skids, as American businessmen have to learn how to handle unpredictable government decisions and Chinese executives who sometimes prioritize boosting the Communist Party above making money.
While the story is fascinating, it’s a little less than breath-taking. GM found success early on, and rarely found itself in do-or-die scenarios that make for compelling narratives. The most dramatic aspect of the book is in its coda, as GM’s bankruptcy in 2009 forces it to cede control of its Chinese operation to the Chinese government. Dunne writes convincingly of how China has lured GM and thousands of other foreign companies to invest hundreds of billions of dollars in industrial infrastructure there, and wonders aloud if the Chinese government might find the companies no longer useful to keep around in the near future.
That part of the story is yet to be acted out, though. Dunne’s book is useful as a microcosm of China’s transformation over the past 20 years from a place where people “who could hardly afford a bicycle in the 1990s are today laying claim to Buicks faster than they can be built.”
Working at the museum greenhouse recently, I saw a pair of birdwing butterflies engaged in a courtship dance. The male, with his shimmering green wings, flies up and under the female repeatedly until she submits. This male looked exhausted; he had spent so much time seeking her attention that his wings had become tattered and faded.
That evening a large group of children were in the museum for a special event. A few were excited seeing a large butterfly carrying a smaller one in flight. At first I thought it was the same mating behavior of the previous pair, but then I realized it was something tragically different.
The female was spiraling in the air with the corpse of the male butterfly attached. He had died during intercourse. He must have been so exhausted from impressing her that when she finally gave in, he gave out. Spending most of the day resisting him, the female did not have the strength to remove him, so she died also. The moment felt very metaphoric, probably because Nick had been so persistent in pursuing me.
I update this blog so much that I decided I needed another venue for my thoughts to avoid clogging this one up. So I started a baseball blog that will focus primarily on the Cleveland Indians. Nine months ago. I just wrote my first post for it yesterday. And it’s about the Boston Red Sox, not the Indians. Thank God this Internet thing is a fad, or I might not be cut out for a professional writing career! Anyway, this is that aforementioned first post. I won’t be reblogging any more of them here, mostly because I likely won’t be writing any more of them, so enjoy!
The Boston Globe’s Bob Hohler penned a scathing expose of the Red Sox September collapse — the one in which they lost 21 of their last 29 games and saw a nine-game lead in the wild card standings over the Rays disappear in the final minutes of the season.
It’s full of vivid and scandalous details: pitchers John Lackey, Josh Beckett and Jon Lester sitting in the clubhouse, getting fat off fried chicken and beer while their teammates played on the field; Kevin Youkilis getting surly in the midst of another injury-plagued season; manager Terry Francona losing focus because of marriage problems and painkillers.
It’s the kind of stuff that a Tribe fan, still a little sore from the 2007 ALCS, should happily lap up. But instead the article gives off the flavor of warm Coors Light — in failing to appreciate the role that randomness plays in baseball, Hohler commits a reverse hagiography as egregious as the pieces lauding Lenny Dykstra as a stock-picking savant shortly before his portfolio fell apart.
Kelly’s website is really fun, and I would recommend a perusal to anyone with a few free minutes. However, I do have an addendum to her tip about laying out your outfit the night before: Don’t do it if you have a cat.
I did this a few months ago for a wedding — I laid out my best suit, a crisp white shirt, tie, boxers, socks and shoes and went to sleep with sweet dreams of suave flirting dancing through my head.
I woke up to the sound of Cleocatra gently scratching my suit. “Don’t do that,” I said, fearing she would shred it into wedding confetti. Luckily, that did not happen. Unluckily, she had peed on it. Needless to say, I did not wear my best suit, and was so thrown off my game that my flirting was horribly unsuave.
And now, it’s time for another excellent guest post from Devan T.-L., who last weighed in on the importance of making a bunch of ice ahead of time. This is one of those steps that seem obvious but really and truly does make a huge difference for how in control of your day you feel. It should…
As the men fought on like a blazing fire raging, swift-footed Jeremy Ebert came to Dan Persa with his news. He found Persa by his head set, sensing in himself what had already happened, speaking with a troubled mind to his own great heart:
“Why are purple-helmeted Wildcats once again retreating to their locker room, being beaten back across the plain in terror? I hope the gods have not done something that will break my heart. ”
As Persa in his mind and heart was thinking this, noble Ebert approached, shedding warm tears. He told him the agonizing truth:
“Son of warlike Darnell Autry, you must hear this dreadful news—something I wish weren’t so—the Eagles of Boston College have scored a touchdown.”
Ebert finished speaking. A black cloud of grief swallowed up Persa. With both hands he scooped up soot and dust and poured it on his head, covering his handsome face with dirt, covering his sweet-smelling tunic with black ash.
He lay sprawling—his mighty quarterback’s massive body collapsed and stretched out in the dust. With his hands, he tugged at his own hair, disfiguring himself.
Swift-footed Persa then questioned Pat Fitzgerald:
“How can I rejoin that conflict? I have a ruptured Achilles heel. My dear training staff has told me not to dress myself for games, not until my own eyes see that I’m ready.
Wind-swift Fitzgerald then answered Persa:
“We know well enough your lovely Achilles is in bad shape. But you should go now, just as you are, to the sideline. Show yourself to Boston College. It may happen that the Eagles, afraid of you, will pull back from battle, giving Kain Coulter and his exhausted warlike teammates a breathing space. For rests in war are rare.”
With these words, swift-footed Fitzgerald went away. Then Persa, loved by Henry Bienen, moved into action. He strode from the wall, then stood there by the sideline. But recalling what Fitzgerald had said to him, he didn’t mingle with Eagles. As he stood there, he cried out. As thrilling as a trumpet’s note when it rings clearly, when rapacious enemies besiege a city—that’s how sharp and piercing Persa’s voice was then. When the Eagles heard it, that brazen shout Persa gave, all their hearts were shaken. Three times godlike Persa yelled across that field. Three times Eagles and their coaches were thrown into confusion. At that moment, twelve of their best men were tackled by their own waterboys and their own shoes. The Wildcats then, with stronger hearts, drove down the field and scored a touchdown.