TRAVERSE CITY, MICH. - After a brush with disaster early this decade, General Motors Corp. has turned its business around by retooling its approach to consumers, employees and suppliers, a top executive said. ``It would have been easy to find plenty of people to blame for our situation. The economy, the government, the competition, the customer, the union. You name it,'' said G. Richard Wagoner Jr., president of GM's North American Operations. ``In fact, what needed to change was, indeed, us.''
Wagoner spoke Aug. 9 at the University of Michigan Management Briefings Seminars in Traverse City.
The back-to-basics philosophy, he noted, was viewed with the understanding that the world's automotive market presents some complex challenges in the years ahead.
Wagoner said GM, which in the early 1990s was ``heading south fast'' and racking up bil-lions of dollars in losses, had ``rethought, reviewed, re-trenched'' its entire busi-ness.
``What you have seen over the past 71/2 years is probably the biggest financial turnaround in corporate history,'' he said.
GM returned to profitability by focusing on flexible manufacturing, management and product innovation, and world-wide purchasing.
In purchasing, the auto-maker is moving to a global procurement system. GM is asking for bids on parts from suppliers all over the world, and asking key parts makers to follow them into emerging international markets.
The automaker's relations with suppliers, after years of demanding lower costs and higher quality, have been, in many cases, tense.
Wagoner conceded that GM's supplier relations still ``aren't perfect'' but said future prospects for ``truly good'' parts makers are better than ever.
At a news conference following his speech, Wagoner said GM is basing its North American production plans on total vehicle market sales of 15.3 million units this year, with ``flat to small growth'' in 1996. He declined to predict when the next industry downturn in sales will occur, but said it is important for GM to lower its break-even point.