You could call this bailing out of one large corporation to join the bailout of another. Former Microsoft chief financial officer Christopher P. Liddell left his old post last month. But instead of joining a startup or making pottery in Peru, like other high achievers seeking the proverbial "new challenges," Liddell has jumped to what many judge to be a sinking ship.
The New York Times and others report that Liddell is now CFO at General Motors, the legendarily huge, lumbering, ossified old Detroit auto manufacturer that makes MSFT look spry and nimble by comparison. At his old post, Liddell responded to flat sales and a mature Windows product line by slicing $3 billion from the company's budget. Roughly 5,000 employees were laid off as part of those efforts. What lessons might Liddell apply from Microsoft to GM?
Liddell will have his work cut out for him at GM, the money-losing behemoth that recently emerged from bankruptcy with the aid of some $17 billion from the federal government. It's got an older, unionized workforce, too many brands, cars without much pizzazz or reliability, and little market share in Europe.
The New Zealand-born Liddell has no experience in the auto industry; he's a complete outsider who will bring no fealty to the traditional ways of Detroit. So in the coming collision between Rust Belt and Silicon Forest, here are some of the measures we might see:
Chevy Volt hybrid will be recharged with USB port.
Your iPhone, iPod, and other Apple devices will no longer work in GM vehicles.
Discontinued brands (Geo, Oldsmobile, Saturn, Pontiac, and probably Saab) can be ordered through service update packs to your existing GM car. (Really, they've got plenty of old Pontiacs lying around.)
Instead of gentle chiming when seatbelts aren't connected, drivers will be berated by the recorded voice of an enraged Steve Ballmer.
Cadillac Escalade will immediately shut down if you forget user name and password.
GM managers who mistake Liddell's New Zealand accent for being Australian will be fired. (Also applies to those who make Paul Hogan jokes.)
GMC Yukon Denali will be weighted down with ever-more "features."