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In an incredible coincidence, I lost my cars keys at the Enormous Chicago Auto Show this afternoon, and got them back almost immediately due to some wonderful people whom I don’t know.

I had parked in the large indoor lot behind the McCormick Place show building. The place was swamped with kids and others with the day off — President’s Day. When I left, I paid my ticket and stepped into the garage and started fumbling through my pockets for my keys. Not finding them, I walked over to a garbage can and began spreading out the contents of my pockets to complete my self-search. I had also left my cell phone in the locked car, so was contemplating my next step.

Just then, and attractive young McCormick Place employee stepped up and asked if I’d lost keys, and asked what kind of car I had. She asked if there was a micro flashlight on the key ring. Yes! She had already turned them into the office, so we walked the few steps over there, and wa-la, I had my key back. She said a woman leaving the show had handed them to her a short while before.

What were the odds? A show with a thousand cars and thousands more in garages, tons of people crowding everywhere, multiple garage entrances. A responsible person who must have seen the keys on the floor, somewhere, who turned them into this responsible employee, who immediately took them to the office, and then was on the alert for someone who looked like they might have lost their keys! I love these people!

And, by the way, another great auto show, with all the latest on display. The prototype Buick Avenir sedan is the classiest thing to come out of Detroit in years. Of course, the new Mercedes Mayback is even classier.

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With the death yesterday of William Clay Ford, Sr., last grandson of Henry Ford, I’m reminded of a memorable event that I had a role in creating that brought together two great names, Ford and McDonald. Baseball owner and automotive tycoon Ford, who had been long-term design chief of the company his grandfather created, served as chairman of the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn from 1951 to 1983, and as chairman emeritus after. He was the museum’s largest donor, and the museum’s core exhibit, the Hall of American Innovation, was named after him. It was there we brought together some great innovators at the hall’s grand opening, as I recounted in my essay for the Chicago Literary ClubP1010939, “Breakfast with Mr. McDonald’s” in the following excerpt:

“Another milestone of excitement and recognition for Dick came about in 1987, crowning several years of effort. The event benefitted both his reputation and the place of the company in the history of a mobile America. The Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village, Michigan, is a historic icon of the automobile industry and of American industry in the 20th century. It not only features Ford’s history, but the history of the entire automotive industry, and displays hundreds of historic cars of all brands, locomotives, Thomas Edison’s original laboratories and so on. But the structures that house the cars and trains were antiquated themselves. Looking like a bleak indoor car lot, row upon row of largely black autos seemed to go on forever. Determined to refurbish the place, museum staff envisioned a Midwest Smithsonian, with the auto as the star, creatively displayed in context with dioramas of the roadside culture they had spawned. They had contacted me, seeking assistance in obtaining and rebuilding a 50s era McDonald’s inside the museum, along with full scale antique gas stations, diners, motel rooms, road signs and other such mementos of time past.

“Unfortunately, we found that by then almost all of the early red and white tile drive-in McDonald’s had been replaced by the then current mansard roof building designs, and that the few remaining red and whites were either too modified to represent the brand or would be too expensive to tear down and move. But our luck was to change. Right in the Detroit market, we learned that a franchisee was about to replace a 50s era giant road sign, illuminated with pink and white neon and with an animated Speedee chef character, which was an early symbol of McDonald’s fast service. If we wanted it, we could have it, said franchisee Dan Shimel, if we could shoulder the expense of moving it, right away. In some hurried communications with the Ford Museum they agreed it would be a perfect giant artifact for inside the entrance to their new display building. I was able to put together the funding, with the help of McDonald’s Detroit regional office, and the sign was moved to the museum for restoration and installation.

“The big reopening of the Ford Museum, and its “Automobile in American Life” exhibit hall was scheduled for 1987, and it was to be a national media blow out, with a gala black tie opening fund-raising event attended by the automotive elite. William Clay Ford was to be the event chairman, and McDonald’s CEO was to among the special guests. Then we thought, wait, this historic event, all about roadside history, would be perfect for Dick McDonald, so Fred Turner agreed and Dick was invited to represent the company. We decided to make it memorable for him, which led to a lot of positive publicity.

“We worked out the program carefully with the Ford people. The grand opening moment in the vast museum, that mimicked the floor plan of Henry Ford’s first factory, would be the lighting of the giant restored McDonald’s road sign inside the museum’s entrance. As veteran Chicago auto writer Jim Mateja would write in the Tribune, “As you walk in the door, the McDonald’s sign set the tone.” Beneath the sign is a classic 1955 Chevy convertible and alongside it, the recreation of a room in the first Holiday Inn.

“At the opening, on the podium beneath the sign would stand Bill Ford, Dick McDonald and Kemmons Wilson, founder of Holiday Inn. The sign would be lighted by the three pulling a large switch that was used by Thomas Edison to illuminate his first light bulb. They did, and as the McDonald’s sign sprang to life again, the thousand-plus black tie crowd roared its approval, as the cameras flashed and the videotape rolled. Dick McDonald was in the headlines, and in seventh heaven. His wife Dot stood next to me, tears rolling down her cheeks. The event had been filled with glamorous receptions and a dinner in Dick’s honor at one of his favorite old haunts, the London Chop House. My associate Susan McBride, who still heads internal communication for McDonald’s, was there to help coordinate all the arrangements and make sure everyone in the McDonald’s system knew about this historic event and Dick’s role in it.

“Dick wrote Fred Turner after the event, saying he found Bill Ford “very pleasant” and “he told me he is an avid customer of McDonald’s. It was a memorable evening for Dorothy and me,” and he concluded warmly, saying, “Fred, I would like to quietly slip into Oak Brook to see you and hash over the old days.” He wrote Vicki and me saying, “Chuck, congratulations on the fantastic way you handled the entire affair.” A record 1.3 million visitors would tour the new museum in the next year. Indeed, we were now on a roll.”
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I just returned from the Lake Geneva premiere of the newest and 50th anniversary James Bond film, Skyfall. It was a large crowd of filmgoers, perhaps as many as 25, for a late afternoon showing here. The theater auditorium has a capacity of several hundred, but today’s turnout was as much as 25 times normal.

For regular James Bond fans, the film contains several surprises, some right at the end, involving Q, M, Miss Moneypenny, and even a classic Aston Martin of Bond film fame.

Don’t miss Skyfall. It does…

 

Bob Lutz, ex of GM, has written an interesting book called “Car Guys Vs. Bean Counters,” that talks about why it makes sense to let people with a passion for a given business run it, rather than turn it all over to the accountants and finance guys. That’s the way McDonald’s, my alumni group, has been run for most of its nearing 60 years.

My own early experience as a budding “car guy: for Toyota, largely peopled by really frustrated ex-US car guys, in the years when Detroit had lost its way, helps make Lutz’s point. My essay on that period — Acceleration — can be found by searching for that title at http://www.chilit.org.

Here’s Amazon’s summary of Lutz’s new book:

“It’s time to stop the dominance of the number-crunchers, living in their perfect, predictable, financially-projected world (who fail, time and again), and give the reins to the ‘product guys’…those with vision and passion for the customers and their product or service.”

When Bob Lutz got into the auto business in the early 1960s, CEOs knew that if you captured the public’s imagination with innovative car design and top quality craftsmanship, the money would follow. The “car guys” held sway, and GM dominated with bold, creative leadership and iconic brands like Cadillac, Buick, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, GMC, and Chevrolet.

But then GM’s leadership began to put their faith in numbers and spreadsheets. Determined to eliminate the “waste” and “personality worship” of the bygone creative leaders, and maximize profitability, management got too smart for its own good. With the bean counters firmly in charge, carmakers, and much of American industry, lost their single-minded focus on product excellence and their competitive advantage. Decline soon followed.

In 2001, General Motors hired Lutz out of retirement with a mandate to save the company by making great cars again. As vice chairman, he launched a war against the penny-pinching number-crunchers who ran the company by the bottom line, and reinstated a focus on creativity, design, and cars and trucks that would satisfy GM customers.

After emerging from bankruptcy in 2009, GM is finally back on track thanks in part to its embrace of Lutz’s philosophy, with acclaimed new models like the Chevrolet Volt, Cadillac CTS, Chevrolet Equinox, and Buick LaCrosse.

Lutz’s common-sense lessons, combined with a generous helping of fascinating anecdotes, will inspire readers in any industry. As he writes:
“It applies in any business. Shoe makers should be run by shoe guys, and software firms by software guys, and supermarkets by supermarket guys. With the advice and support of their bean counters, absolutely, but with the final word going to those who live and breathe the customer experience. Passion and drive for excellence will win over the computer-like, dispassionate, analysis- driven philosophy every time.”

 

Isn’t it curious that the spacecraft that successfully landed on Mars last night is essentially a car, not unlike those self-powered contraptions pioneered by the likes of Henry Ford? Curiosity, as it is aptly named, will explore Mars as if it were an off-road jaunt off Route 66. Next time you go for a drive in your own car, just imagine!

CURIOSITY...

Here is my brother-in-law Jay pulling his hot vintage red AC Cobra continuation sports car onto the car park at Applewood Lodge, after over-wintering in our garage.  Jay bids his sister Vicki (my wife) farewell, before he motors off down Woodchuck Way toward the County road, back to Glencoe on a sunny spring day. 

Thomas Edison said this on New Year’s Eve in 1879, as he turned the switch on and off to thousands of incandescent lights in his Menlo Park lab.

In a way his prediction came true, in the sense that, at least in America and the advanced countries, candles are lighted mostly for special occasions, but by the poor as well as the rich.

How might his prediction prove relevant to our future today? For example, might we predict: “We will make electric cars so cheap to operate that only the rich will drive vehicles with internal combustion engines.”


Will and Catherine happily motor off from Buckingham Palace after the wedding in Prince Charles’s decorated vintage 1969 Aston Martin Volante, which had been a 21st birthday present to the Prince from his mother. The license plate reads, “JUST WED.”

Check out the video:

Some friends have asked why I hadn’t yet addressed the situation around Gov. Walker and the union protests here in Wisconsin. OK, I will. But I mentioned one key side issue on Feb. 21 in my blog entry titled ” Unions Have a Big PR Problem.” Unions still do. The sub-text that caught the nation’s attention during the massive demonstrations in Madison was that Gov. Walker seemed to be pulling the rug out of pocket book economics for the little people — teachers in particular — right after he had created new tax benefits for business capitalists in the state. He seemed to be robbing the little guys to help the fat cats. He was declaring his hard right belief in trickle-down economics, and union members were paying the price: giving up their collective bargaining rights as state employees.

The unions did a good job of turning out their members and their supporters, organizing crowds of peaceful demonstrators topping 100,000 supporters in and around Wisconsin’s Capitol building. But as I said before, even those well-behaved crowds of supporters were interpreted by the right and much of the press as a specter of the danger of empowered unions. Unions have represented state workers in Wisconsin for more than 50 years, and have seemed to do so fairly well, looking back. But since Detroit collapsed a few years ago, and unions were portrayed as the bad guys who had negotiated exorbitant compensation and retirement plans for auto workers, unions have had a bad PR reputation in America. Of course, the failure of Detroit capitalists to design and build the cars Americans had wanted for more than a generation, defaulting to the more responsive Japanese, South Koreans and Germans, was played down.

So, even though Gov. Walker had the political clout to kill state employee unions, he clearly hit a nerve when he seemed to trample the little guys, at a time when the economy was already doing that to them, while he supported the capitalists. Any reasonable person might have seen a compromise in which the unions agreed to back off on economic pressure for a year or two, but Walker would have none of that. Yes, the unions have a PR problem. They are not appreciated as being responsible champions of the little guy. If unions are to survive, they’re in need of a lot of good PR, and they had better earn it. Meanwhile, autocrats like Gov. Walker will keep eating their lunch.

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