Does Whitacre bring hope to GM’s suppliers?

One of the most frustrating things for suppliers to General Motors has been a track record of promising better relationships and delivering more of the same or even worse terms and conditions. Oddly, the upheaval of bankruptcy and a federal bailout had actually had started to crack that vicious cycle, and the permanent appointment of Ed Whitacre as CEO actually offers hope that changes will stick.

As The New York Times reported, Whitacre has a great opportunity as an outsider to question past practices and make significant changes. And his record at AT&T supports changes for the better for suppliers.

At AT&T Whitacre concentrated on promoting diversity within SBC companies and suppliers. Fortune and Working Woman magazines, along with the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council, the National Minority Business Council, and the National Minority Supplier Development Council recognized these efforts. Under Whitacre’s guidance SBC Communications’ supplier diversity program won the prestigious Ron Brown Award for outstanding corporate citizenship.

Whitacre’s ability to commit, resource and drive a supplier development initiative demonstrates that there is potential for GM to commit to an initiative to develop a strong supply chain with suppliers making investments, innovating and striving to achieve cost and value improvements.

With momentum strongly moving the auto industry to radically different powertrains, there is tremendous pressure for innovation throughout the automotive supply chain. That requires significant investment, trust and strong commitments for the future.  If Whitacre commits to a supplier relationship development program and drives it with the same energy that he did with the supplier diversity program at AT&T, GM  and it’s suppliers will be in a position to achieve competitive advantage.

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