A Modern Business Parable

A Modern Business Parable

A Japanese company (Toyota) and an American company (General Motors) decided to have a canoe race on the Missouri River.

Both teams practiced long and hard to reach their peak performance before the race.

On the big day, the Japanese won by a mile.

The Americans, very discouraged and depressed, decided to investigate the reason for the crushing defeat. A management team made up of senior executives was formed to investigate and recommend appropriate action.

Their conclusion was the Japanese had 8 people paddling and 1 person steering, while the American team had 7 people steering and 2 people paddling.

Feeling a deeper study was in order, American management hired a consulting company and paid them a large amount of money for a second opinion.  

They advised, of course, that too many people were steering the boat, while not enough people were paddling. 

Not sure of how to utilize that information, but wanting to prevent another loss to the Japanese, the rowing team’s management structure was totally reorganized to 4 steering supervisors, 2 area steering superintendents and 1 assistant superintendent steering manager.

They also implemented a new performance system that would give the 2 people paddling the boat greater incentive to work harder. It was called the ‘Rowing Team Quality First Program,’ with meetings, dinners and free pens for the paddlers.

There was discussion of getting new paddles, canoes and other equipment, extra vacation days for practices, and performance bonuses for the managers.

The pension program was trimmed to ‘equal the competition’ and some of the resultant savings were channeled into morale boosting programs and teamwork posters.

The next year the Japanese won by two miles.

Humiliated, the American management team laid off one paddler, halted development of a new canoe, sold all the paddles, and cancelled all capital investments for new equipment. The money saved was distributed to the senior executives as bonuses.

The next year, try as he might, the lone designated paddler was unable to even finish the race (having no paddles), so he was laid off for unacceptable performance, all canoe equipment was sold and the next year’s racing team was outsourced to India.

Sadly, the End.

Here’s something else to think about: GM has spent the last thirty years moving all its factories out of the U.S., claiming they can’t make money paying American wages.

TOYOTA has spent the last thirty years building more than a dozen plants inside the U.S.

The last year’s results: TOYOTA makes 4 billion in profits while GM racked up 9 billion in losses.

GM folks are still scratching their heads, and collecting bonuses…


Management 101

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11 Responses to A Modern Business Parable

  1. skip best says:

    i’ve always been a gm customer since istarted driving as a teenager and always will be.
    i hated it when oh-bung-hole stuck his mud-sucking nose in their business and that’s when it was changed to “government motors” by sending the company and american jobs to china.
    as for toyota or any other gook mobile made in foreign countries and shipped here, you couldn’t give a “ric-burner”!

  2. BobF says:

    BINGO!! That’s the problem with American industry.

  3. dekare says:

    GM knew they would get a bail out…so why try. Kinda like our kids these days who know that they parents will let them come home if they fail.

    I was GM man for decades, but no longer. My last purchase was an Acura. The cars GM is coming out with lack style IMO. Their last attemtp to be cool was the SSR…what were they thinking? EWWWWW. I have owned three GMC trucks over the 25 years, and I am due for a new one soon, and I am looking at Ford. I am Camaro guy and have owned five 69 Camaros and still have two of them (Indy pace car and a pro tour big block), but the new Camaro doesn’t do it for me. It is not comfortable, and nothing feels intuitive. Maybe I just expected too much. Whereas, the new Mustang looks great. Especially the newest one that looks like it has DNA from a Aston Martin (see here and tell me I am not right…


    And Ford was the only one that didn’t get a bail out.

    Anyway, it is sad that America can not compete in today’s market. Yes, our standard of living is higher and wages more than what is done over in third world countries, but if you ask me, the real issue is the unions.

    Another issue seems to be kids are no longer into cars like they were in my generation. Hell, I got my driver’s license on my 16th birthday, and had a car I built with my dad ready to go. Whereas, in the case of my nieces and nephews, they were not excited at all, and never cared about driving. Mom and dad chauffeured them everywhere, so why drive and go thru all the trouble of buying a car, maintaining in, insuring it and so on. WHAT? Those things are a right of passage. And sadly, these kids are the norm when it comes to this attitude about cars.

    So, with the kids only wanting small gas economy boxes, that is what they were sold. I guess that is what happens when boys are taught to be beta males. Whereas an alpha male wants the baddest most tricked out machine he can get. Cars in my day were what plumage is to a peacock. The guy with the coolest car got the babes. To this day my wife denies my Trans Am I had in high school was the reason she dated me. I have my doubts about her telling me the truth on this. She says it was me, but I saw her eyes light up when she saw me get out of my car in the school parking lot. It was only after that she seemed to be interested in me. I guess she learned to love me. But alas, those days are gone.

    Anyway, Detroit is dead, and I do not see it making a comeback…unless the car companies decide to do so. But ever since they let go of the market, it is going to be much harder to take it back. It almost seems as if they are fine being second to Japan. Maybe a Trump presidency will change that. I can only hope.

    • wayne says:

      What bugs me most dekare is the mantra pushed on us that the labor is cheaper offshore. Shouldn’t the price of a new car be 4,500 dollars and not 45,000? I refuse to buy or even look at a GM vehicle. I think the Corvette is still made in Kentucky but the parts come from everywhere. Ford Taurus is a pleasure to drive and gets reasonable gas mileage. We’re stickin with Ford for now.

  4. skip best says:

    oh dekare; how un-american to buy a foreign masw acura…
    and now you’re looking at a mexican made ford coming across the bordr from mexico?
    in case you don’t know what ford stands for, it’s very simple…to put it nicely, it stands for” frigged up old retired dodge.

    • dekare says:


      I know all the great FORD acronyms…
      Found On Road Dead
      Fouled* Up on Race Day
      Fix Or Repair Daily
      I could go on.

      To quote a line from one of my favorite movies…”Russian components, American components…all made in Taiwan”

      GM used to mean something. I remember the saying when you said something was the “Cadillac” of this or that, it meant it was top notch.

      Sadly, there is little difference anymore. Hell, for a while, I couldn’t tell one car from the next unless I saw the badge….and I am guy that prior to 1990, I could name any car based on seeing just the taillight or grille.

      Sadly, GM is just not what it was. The Acura is my wife’s, and I am on my third GM truck. I just no longer see the value of a new GM vehicle. Now, for the old cars, I will take Chevy any day of the week and twice on Sunday. Just like the old motto of Chevy…”Win on Sunday, sell on Monday”.

  5. wayne says:

    I was a GM guy growing up. ’66 GTO, 66 SS Chevelle, ’68 GTO. Still fool around with horsepower but only in boats. I am currently working on a 383 c.i. stroker for my buddies 26′ Baha Cruisers. My wife drives a Ford Taurus and I have my Jeep Cherokee Sport that is 25 years old and looks it but I wouldn’t sell it for anything. I drove it off a lot in Stone Mountain Georgia on December 26, 20 years ago. Now that it is officially an antique, I am going to restore it. I like the Toyota color blue and it will replace the tired old navy blue that has been attacked by the Florida sun for almost 12 years. The Taurus is a great car (2012) and I think Ford is the winner in this contest between GM and Ford.

    • skip best says:

      oh wayne- you’re a man after my on heart mentioning all of those great cars of our generation… i still have my first muscle car.. a 1967 ponyiac goatparked in a clean garage…for those who don’t know what that is, it’s a gto…after i bought it brand new, i beat the pants oof a plymouth gtx on the race track and i am sure you remember that so-called muscle car from the good ol’ days long since gone.

  6. TexasFred says:

    Apparently the point of a parable was seriously missed here… 🙁

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