A FUTURE FOR TRUCK MANUFACTURERS

The treasurer for a major Northern California manufacturing company was interpreting the company's latest quarterly results at a rostrum on a stage at the corporate headquarters.

In attendance were board members and key company officers. The chief executive officer did not agree with what the treasurer was saying. While the treasurer was still speaking, the CEO pressed a button and the curtains on each side of the stage began moving toward one another. The treasurer was still attempting to speak when the curtains closed in front of him. Two weeks later a press release was issued that the treasurer had left the company to ''pursue other interests.A vice president for a major service company headquartered in New York City had heard rumors that he was about to lose his job. Naturally disturbed, he requested to see the CEO. The CEO assured him that there was nothing to the rumor and the best thing for him to do was to get on with the work before him. A week later, and a day after the CEO had left for a business trip in Europe, the vice president was called in to meet the president and informed that his services were no longer required by the company.

Historians like to ask the question "do times make the man or man make the times.

Obviously, times affect people and people affect the times. But during turbulent times in business like these, the best, most competent people are needed to manage our companies. There is no room for caretakers. But neither is there room for managers who let the stress of hard times make them act in cold and insensitive ways. That they do act in such fashion is not only a fact - as in the case of the true stories with which I opened the column - but somewhat understandable though never to be condoned.

Selecting the right leader for the right time is the most important thing a business can do.

Robert Anderson, chairman and CEO of Rockwell International Corp., and Donald D. Lennox, chairman and CEO of Navistar International Corp., have in large degree been the right leaders for critical times for their companies. Mr. Anderson correctly anticipated the high tech needs of industry and over a decade or so has turned Rockwell into one of the better high tech, component and systems manufacturers in the world. Mr. Lennox took the troubled International Harvester Corp. and pared it down into Navistar International Corp., which, among other things, is the largest medium and heavy-duty truck manufacturer in the country.

Neither had an easy job of it.

A couple of weeks ago they were in Washington where they spoke at a productivity seminar sponsored by the Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Association and Fortune Magazine. Their comments touched on what the trucking and component trucking manufacturers can look forward to through at least the end of the decade and perhaps beyond. But, given what they have gone through with their own companies and the professionalism with which they did it, their comments also have broad application on all deregulated transportation industries and on manufacturing in general in this country.

A decade ago, Mr. Lennox said, truck manufacturers could count on a 6 percent increase in heavy truck demand if the United States' gross national product rose by 3 percent. Now some observers believe that it will take a 3.6 percent increase in GNP to keep pace with today's volume, he added.

What the truck manufacturers are faced with is an industry that is "over capacitized (his words, not mine) because of lagging industrial production and major carrier bankruptcies - 1,500 carrier bankruptcies in 1985. Compounding that problem is the fact that the over capacity of the industry has increased competition among manufacturers and forced them into building more fuel- efficient, safer and more durable, long-lasting trucks, which also ends up reducing customer demand.

But then Mr. Lennox adds what for me is a critical, though often overlooked, insight into why the United States is being inundated with imports. "As gloomy as 1986 appears, North America is viewed by competitors across both oceans as the only real growth market left in the trucking world.

The idea had not escaped Mr. Anderson, either.

"The inescapable fact is that technology and society have become so complex, and resources are being so stretched, that joint and cooperative efforts of many kinds offer one of the few practical ways to meet our needs and accomplish our goals, Mr. Anderson said.

The result, he went on to say, is that there is no longer any such thing as an American economy.

"It is now a global economy, and a very dynamic one, he said. "The players include developed and developing countries, planned and free-market economies, high-and low-wage industries. Each has its strengths and its weaknesses.

How do you survive in such a place?

To compete in this global market companies and industries must learn to mix and match their capabilities on a world-wide basis to achieve competitive advantage, Mr. Anderson said.

He ended his remarks much like Mr. Lennox on a positive, up-beat note.

"I am convinced the decade of the '80s will be remembered as the time when the transportation industry reassessed itself, restructured itself and revitalized itself.

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