Another GM shake-up expected Correcting damage done by '84 plan is the goal.

February 06, 1992|By John Lippert | John Lippert,Knight-Ridder News Service

DETROIT -- Seven years after the most sweeping shakeup in its history, General Motors Corp. is expected to announce this spring another reorganization aimed at curing the havoc wreaked by the old plan.

Although exact details haven't been completed, sources say the giant automaker likely will consolidate many administrative operations in an effort to pare as many as 20,000 white-collar workers by 1995.

A GM spokesman declined to comment on the plan yesterday. However, a company official who spoke on the condition of anonymity described some features of the plan.

A variety of white-collar jobs, such as planning, purchasing, personnel, finance, marketing and labor relations, would be removed from the company's three North American car and truck groups.

These operations would be centralized and would report to the general manager of a new structure called North American Vehicle Operations.

That manager would supervise six or more product development teams now spread out among the car and truck groups. These would include the Cadillac, Lansing and Flint divisions of the Buick-Oldsmobile-Cadillac Group; the front-wheel-drive and rear-wheel-drive development teams of the Chevrolet-Pontiac-Canada group and the truck and bus operations of the Truck and Bus Group.

Initially, the three groups would retain their engineering and manufacturing responsibilities. But over the next few years, they might be eliminated.

GM employs about 3,700 workers at its Broening Highway plant, which makes Chevrolet Astro and GMC Safari mini-vans.

GM spokesman John Mueller declined to comment on possible organizational changes, saying the company's policy was to notify employees first.

The company's reorganization in 1984 was supposed to forge closer ties among engineering, manufacturing and marketing staffs.

But the car and truck groups developed different operating philosophies and built large, cumbersome bureaucracies to perpetuate them.

While one group was working with the UAW to boost production on stamping presses, another spent $2 billion on highly automated equipment.

GM's suppliers, meanwhile, complained that they faced confusion and expense finding their way through the company's s Byzantine organization.

By centralizing its structure, the company hopes to respond better to customers' needs and achieve its goal of cutting 74,000 jobs and mothballing 21 plants by 1995.

With a less cumbersome bureaucracy, GM hopes to establish uniform engineering plans. That will help the company reduce the types of engines from nine to five, and the number of ignition systems from 17 to three.

In December, GM Chairman Robert Stempel said, "organizational changes will continue" to streamline bureaucracies, cut costs and eliminate jobs.

He's moving cautiously, however, because the 1984 reorganization showed that internal changes can be disruptive.

"Something like this takes a tremendous amount of energy out of the organization," said the GM official who did not want to be identified.

"The only thing people think about is whether they'll have a job, and what job they'll be doing."

Asked why Mr. Stempel was stepping up the pace of change now, the official said, "I guess it depends how desperate you are. There's no doubt in my mind" that GM's current situation is desperate.

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