The kind of internal conflict on display at General Motors' European operations over the past 18 months probably occurs at other auto companies. Why then have GM's problems been so public?
It partly reflects a good thing - the fact that GM's main European subsidiary is fully and unashamedly German.
Adam Opel is a proud organization whose managers and engineers are responsible for GM's past success in Europe. Why should they be docile if they believe that American management in Detroit is being destructive?
Ford Motor Co., GM's US counterpart, is different. It has a culturally diverse management mix everywhere in the world, including Europe. At Ford, an American chief engineer in Germany (Will Boddie) reports to a British product development boss in the US (Richard Parry Jones).
GM is all American in America and mostly German in Germany. Opel is no Oldsmobile or Saturn, units that are filled with career GM-ers who shift from one interchangeable unit to another. And it can't be managed like Olds or Saturn.
But Opel is not ungovernable. Bob Hendry, the talented and humble new chief executive, should be able to maintain the German intensity without allowing Ruesselsheim to become a hothouse of dissent. Besides being GM Chairman Jack Smith's 'troubleshooter,' as he is often described, Hendry must carry the Opel message to Detroit.
Past Opel leaders have complained about a poor line of communication from Ruesselsheim to Detroit. Information had to be routed through two layers of bureaucracy in Zurich: GM Europe and GM International Operations.
GM is addressing the problem. GM Europe President Michael Burns will join the Opel supervisory board, and International Operations is no more, having been folded into a global GM automotive unit. Ford gets much credit for its cultural diversity. But Opel is different. It is as German as Volkswagen.
That is something to be prized by General Motors, even in difficult times.