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November 5, 2007

For $70 Per Hour, Ford Might as Well Put Consultants on the Assembly Line


And you want to know why Ford is having a hard time. In its new contract with the UAW, Ford has gotten its per-employee hourly labor cost down – yes, down – to $70.




Yes, that’s quite an accomplishment. Even if you figure union wages of $25 an hour or more, health insurance premiums, employment taxes, HR administration costs . . . you could throw in a hot tub for every employee and you’d still have to be trying to waste money to hit $70 an hour.


“GM and Chrysler are worse!” Ford’s management team exclaims triumphantly.


The next time I write a bad column, I am going to check around on Google and find something like the following: “Please lissen too me when I say thit Americer needs to wake up and akt!”


Then I’ll tell you, “That guy writes worse than me!”


Keep telling yourself that you’re better than GM and Chrysler. That’s why GM and Chrysler exist. To assuage the self-esteem of other disastrous corporations. GM is a health insurance company that makes cars on the side. Chrysler is so bad, the Germans swooped in and took it over, then said, “Whoops! Never mind. Take it back. Please. We’re buying Weinerschnitzel instead.”


Of course, even GM and Chrysler never lost $12.6 billion in a single year, which is what Ford did in 2006, so it’s hard to definitively settle the argument of which company is worst. Let’s focus instead on $70-an-hour labor costs for a company that lost the aforementioned $12.6 billion.


Because I know how Ford can fix that.


I have done a lot of work as a consultant. Consultants mostly work by hourly fees. The same is true with lawyers, advertising agencies, accountants and lots of other professional service outfits. Now, the really high-priced ones, like Johnnie Cochran, who managed to convince a jury that O.J. was innocent, can get more than $500 an hour. But most of us schleps think we’re doing pretty well if we get $100. And it’s not unheard of that a consultant would get something in the neighborhood of $70 an hour.


So if Ford is going to spend $70 an hour on labor anyway, it should get rid of all its hourly employees and have consultants work the assembly line. It’s perfect.


First of all, you don’t have to give consultants health insurance, pay employment taxes on them, give them vacation pay – nothing. If the consultant’s fee is $70 an hour, you pay the $70 and that’s it. You don’t need an HR department. And if things are slow tomorrow – because let’s face it, no one wants Ford cars – you just tell the consultant you don’t need him that day.


And they don’t have a union. They go to networking events where they eat little weenies, but they’re not held at union halls.


But that’s not the best part. The best part is the wonderful wisdom from which you will benefit as a result of the consultants’ presence. My buddy Colby the Consultant, last seen trying to have a meeting with me while I was actually posting messages on idlechatter.com, can explain to his fellow line workers about tying some flies and putting them in front of some fish.


While the consultants are welding stuff going by on the line, they can theorize with each other about “circles of influence,” “alignment shifters” and “synergy.”


They will gladly give their shift supervisor feedback on his management technique, recommend books he could read and make him take career personality assessments.


And when the executives have had enough of them, they can offer suggestions about “change management.”


Consultants would make great auto workers. Just make sure they have a flip chart nearby and they’ll be happy as clams all day. Best of all, most business consultants spend a lot of time in messed up companies trying to figure out how to fix them. So they’ll feel right at home at Ford.


Granted, since they’re there to work the assembly line and not to actually consult, no one will listen to them. In other words, a typical consulting engagement, but with safety glasses. It’s always more fun when you get to keep trinkets!


© 2007 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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