Monday, September 21, 2015

Business 101: The Truth Will Out

A number of companies have found themselves in, um, unfortunate situations this month because of problems that they should have known would eventually come to light.

You may think I'm talking about GM's ignition switch issues (which I've written about plenty of times before, e.g., here), and for which the company agreed last week to pay $900 million (some details of the settlement can be found in a New York Times article sourced from Reuters, here), and in some ways, I guess I am: did they really think the problems would just go away? That no one would notice?

Or were they just hoping that no one would notice on my watch?

But I was also thinking about the ouster of United Airlines CEO Jeff Smisek, in part due to the turbulent investigation of "Bridgegate". According to Chicago Tribune reporter Gregory Karp, Smisek is accused of "improperly currying favor with former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey David Samson. United reinstated a money-losing route from Newark to an airport near Samson's South Carolina vacation home." (full article, here)

Smisek was apparently hoping for, among other things, subsidies for a new United airplane maintenance hangar at Newark. The Thursday-down and Monday-back flights (I want a three-day workweek too!) were cancelled four days after Samson resigned from the Port Authority in 2014.

Did he think no one would notice?

Smisek is out, but not exactly hurting: According to a New York Times article from the Associated Press (here), the ex-CEO "would get a severance payment of $4.9 million and be eligible for a bonus. Smisek, 61, will have health insurance until he is eligible for Medicare and keep flight benefits and parking privileges for the rest of his life. He gets to keep his company car."

I particularly like that he is "eligible for a bonus."

And then there's Volkswagen (September has been a sadly great month for these stories).

In last Friday's New York Times, reporters Coral Davenport and Jack Ewing wrote that the Environmental Protection Agency was ordering the carmaker to recall some 500,000 diesel automobiles because:

...the German automaker [was] using software to detect when the car is undergoing its periodic state emissions testing. Only during such tests are the cars' full emissions control systems turned on. During normal driving situations, the controls are turned off, allowing the cars to spew as much as 40 times as much pollution as allowed under the Clean Air Act...

Why would VW do such a thing? "Experts in automotive technology said that disengaging the pollution controls on a diesel-fueled car can yield better performance, including increased torque and acceleration."

Did they think no one would notice?

It does take a while sometimes (the VW and Audi models involved in the recall, for example, are 2009-2015 model year vehicles), but:

The Truth Will Out.