Harvard, June 5, 2039…
“Can anybody tell me why today is such an important day in history?” The professor scanned the room, looking at the group of anxious sophomores, doing anything to avoid eye contact.
“You…in the I Love Detroit shirt,” he said. “Surely, you know what makes today special, right?”
The young sophomore cleared her throat and responded, “Of course I know…and stop calling me Shirley.”
(Hey, she’s my granddaughter…she got my gene for lame humor).
“June 5, 2009 was the day Roger Penske bought Saturn Corporation from General Motors,” she said.
“Very good,” the professor said, nodding his approval. “And, why was that so important?”
“Well, my grandfather said it was the day the auto industry rediscovered entrepreneurialism,” she said. “Mr. Penske was a bold risk-taker and a fierce competitor. He had succeeded in everything he had done before and he wasn’t about to fail in this venture either.”
“Keep going,” the professor said. “How did he transform the industry?”
“Well, he had a much smaller, more nimble company, and that made it easier for him to make decisions,” she said. “He knew a lot about cars, but he really worked hard to understand his customers, too. Within a few years, he was able to build cars that people really wanted…some that were sporty and stylish, even some big vehicles that families loved. But, he also knew people wanted cars that got better gas mileage, so he invested a lot in developing engines that were more powerful and still got better mileage.”
“And what happened then,” the professor prodded.
“Other companies knew they had to keep pace,” she said. “Ford had already started to develop some great cars and they did really well. But, the government was dragging down GM and Chrysler and president Obama knew he needed to get out of the car business, or he was going to lose the 2012 election. “
“So he just abandoned all those autoworkers, right?” the professor asked.
“Not really,” she responded. “GM realized they had to compete hard to catch up with Ford and Saturn and they turned some of their great brands like Cadillac and Chevy back into winners. Sadly, Chrysler went out of business…but, you know what? The other companies were profitable and healthy, so a lot of the good workers were rehired at Saturn, Ford and GM. Competition…entrepreneurialism…the free market…they made things better for everyone.”
“Very good,” said the professor. “Did your grandfather teach you anything about why the Lions haven’t had a winning season in almost 40 years?”
“Well,” she said “They never should have drafted a quarterback when they needed to beef up the o-line and the defense…”
Harvard, June 5, 2039…