BOOMERBROADcast

The voice of baby boomers, the silenced majority. Rants and reflections on lifestyle, fashion, current events, books and more . . .


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The solution to problems at General Motors and Conde Nast


What affects GM workers affects everyone.

The media has been very unkind to General Motors recently, and rightfully so. They marked the American holiday of Thanksgiving by closing plants and laying off thousands of workers. While I sympathize with those negatively affected, I’m also pragmatic. I’ve been downsized; my husband’s been downsized; nearly everyone I know, at some point has been the victim of reorganization, restructuring or whatever euphemism you wish to employ. Jobs-for-life and careers with one company are a thing of the past, gone the way of company pensions, rotary phones and carbon paper. We should not be surprised.

What does strike me, however, is the pattern of arrogance in major corporations that results in these drastic measures. Something has been ignored and it’s called (sit down; this is a biggie) “Listen to your customers”. Large corporations like General Motors and so many others like them have long regarded themselves as invincible, even omnipotent. Sears, American Motors and Blackberry are prime examples of big business paying the price for not paying attention to who actually pays their bills—not the company, the customer. General Motors was too slow off the blocks in recognizing that their customers now prefer SUVs and pickup trucks with their improved safety and fuel efficiency over conventional sedan cars. Sears’ executives kept flogging the same old haberdashery while they were falling apart at the seams. Tragically, their senior executives got big bonuses and golden parachutes while they raped the pension plans of their minimum wage hourly workers.

No longer relevant.

According to The New York Times, Condé Nast, the giant media organization and publisher of such magazines as Vogue and Glamour is also now trying to mitigate the effects of bad management. They’ve fired Chief Executive Robert A. Sandberg Jr. and shuffled various editors. Some publications like Glamour are going to digital only, ignoring old ladies like me who like to rip pages out of magazines for my inspiration file. Which brings us to the core of the problem. There’s little to no inspiration in fashion magazines these days. Vogue is particularly irrelevant and my commitment to my subscription is hanging by a thread. Have they ever considered asking what their readers would like to read? I’ve been a subscriber for years and no one ever checks with me. Seems pretty obvious but not to those occupying the exalted thrones at the top of corporations. Now, I’ll move on to the auto industry.

General Motors: Here’s your lifeline

Help wanted. Apply Oshawa.

It’s simple. Go into competition with Bombardier. They seem to have more business than they can handle, very little competition, a guaranteed source of financial handouts from various levels of gullible government (taxpayers) and no particular business or management skills. Anyone can do better than that with a little business savvy, some creative thinking and an already available source of skilled workers. The recent news that Bombardier is laying off 7,500 workers worldwide including 2,000 in Canada prompted me to revisit a piece I wrote earlier.

During my lifetime, I’ve watched automotive manufacturing plants grow and expand to meet new technologies, then retreat and ultimately close. I worked for the construction company that built a major portion of those Ontario plants. To see Oshawa’s General Motors operation go from almost thirty thousand employees to zero is heartbreaking. Ford has also closed facilities in southwestern Ontario.

As we know, Bombardier, the manufacturer of subway cars and streetcars is a perpetual sinking Titanic-sized case study in bad management. Taxpayers keep futilely bailing out the chronically mismanaged privately owned corporation like it’s a giant money pit. Despite this, Bombardier continues to be awarded new contracts for transit vehicles which they are guaranteed to not deliver on time. They’re years behind on delivery of stock for Toronto and other major cities. Obviously there’s not enough competition in the business of manufacturing transit vehicles.

The workers and the plants are in place. Do the work.

The answer is simple. Retool the automotive plants to produce subway cars and transit vehicles. Put the workers in Oshawa and southwestern Ontario back to work and let them show Bombardier how it’s done. Small fortunes were spent updating auto manufacturing plants in Ontario and they’re now sitting empty waiting for weed growers to lease the space and sell the equipment for scrap metal. The problem of trucks encountering insurmountable traffic problems moving stock across Toronto’s choked highways would be eliminated. At the risk of sounding immodest (!!), I think my solution is brilliant. Does anyone have any influence with GM President Mary Barra or the UAW? Put in a word. Better still, put the kettle on and sit down at the kitchen table and make this idea work.

It’s a perfect storm and has all the ingredients needed to launch a successful business enterprise—strong market demand for both present and future products, skilled, available workforce, existing manufacturing plants available for retooling, tested financial metrics and business case, shortage of reliable manufacturers. All that’s needed is a smart team to pull it together and we’re in business.

 

 

Bombardier is a train wreck of back-ordered stock on a track to disaster. For years we’ve been enduring the ongoing saga of mismanagement, government bailouts, law suits and failure to deliver. They’re being sued for failure to deliver public transit vehicles on schedule. Toronto Transit Commission is at their wits’ end trying to get delivery of long overdue streetcars and could face similar difficulties with future transit vehicle deliveries. Yet Bombardier keeps accepting new orders because buyers seem to have nowhere else to turn.

Well, dear readers, I have the solution. We did it during World War II and it could work again. Re-open the General Motors and Ford plants throughout southern Ontario that closed when manufacturing jobs went south, and tool them up to build streetcars, trains and other heavy industrial mass-transit vehicles. Get Oshawa, Windsor, Talbotville, St. Thomas and other automotive plants making streetcars and trains. If Bombardier can’t do the job, then give the work to those who can.

 

Imagine the jobs that could be created in Oshawa, Windsor, Talbotville, St. Thomas and other Ontario towns. Let’s talk.

I’m sick to death of hearing about the incompetency of Bombardier and failure to meet their obligations when half of Oshawa is collecting employment insurance benefits and would love to be back to work. If automotive plants could switch to making tanks and fighter planes during the Second World War, I’m confident Canadian ingenuity could make it happen again for trains and streetcars.Set up a conference call or better still, a meeting at Tim Hortons somewhere along Highway 401, between the automotive execs, the UAW, the Quebec and Ontario Government Ministers of Economic Development and Bombardier and let’s get this show on the road. I’ll buy the Tim-bits if it helps sweeten the pot. Time’s a’wastin’ and jobs are waiting. Let’s put the kettle on.


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One ringy dingy lights up my world


A gracious good afternoon. We need to talk about the use of your instrument.

Remember when Lily Tomlin’s character Ernestine ran the entire phone company single-handedly? From her little PBX switchboard she efficiently dispatched installers and repairmen while simultaneously providing harried customer service, challenging delinquent bill payers and dispensing unsolicited advice to business and world leaders. I actually worked for the phone company in those days and understood her loyalty and determination, not to mention her romantic crush on Vito, her favourite repairman. Back then, I too had a favourite repairman. In fact, I married him. But that’s another story.

Then, along came new technology, a.k.a. cell phones. I’m not a complete Luddite; I bought one of the early ones—the size of a brick—in the nineties. Over the years I’ve tried to keep up as new ones came along but I’m rapidly losing ground. In fact, I’m ready to revert, and I don’t think I’m alone. It requires far too much time and effort (not to mention money) to keep on top of all the newest features and apps, and still have time to pluck my chin hairs.

Jake Howell of The Globe and Mail is on my side. His recent article Dumb, but happy perfectly summed up my position when he confessed to giving up his iPhone 5C in favour of one of the old no-frills, basic phones. When he found his addictive use of the smart phone “akin to a glorified fidget spinner”, he went cool turkey—not completely cold, but severely curtailed. When Candice Bergen produced a ‘flip phone’ on the first episode of the new Murphy Brown recently, it was the source of much laughter and derision, but Jake (I presume) and I empathized. We know a good thing when we see it.

Sadly, the world as we know it.

Maybe it’s because I don’t have kids in school or a cheating husband whose emails and browsing history I need to monitor, but give me that old-time phone service any day. I’ve gone entire weeks without using my cell phone and the sky didn’t fall in. I never have to worry about exceeding my data plan. I’m baffled when I see groups of people sitting together having lunch or dinner and everyone’s looking down thumbing their phones. Young people are going to entirely miss out on the art and joy of unencumbered personal conversation.

I’ve had a smart phone for awhile now but I’m seriously thinking about tossing it and digging out my simple old flip-phone that I bought at Walmart for $14.99 back in the aughts. I’m never sure if my so-called smartphone is on or off and just last week I couldn’t figure out how to turn it off in the dark at the movie theatre. Maybe it wasn’t even on; I can never tell. And, I can never figure out how to access WiFi in public places (my problem, not the phone’s). I haven’t set up the voice mail because the phone’s never turned on and frankly I don’t know how. I keep the phone only for emergencies. Imagine that! My monthly cell phone bill from CARP (Canadian Association for Retired People) costs me a whopping $18.31 including taxes.

Many people have ditched their land lines in favour of cell service only. That’s fine if you want to carry it around in your hip pocket 24/7 (which it seems most people actually prefer), take it to bed with you, into the shower, into the hospital labour room and while having sex. I just don’t get it.

I expect smart phones will soon be implanted as a microchip into our wrists. Until then, if you need to reach me, you’ll probably get no answer. Whether or not I respond immediately is not crucial to world survival. I’m probably on my lunch break splitting a six-pack with Ernestine. And if this is the party to whom I am speaking, then I’ll get back to you when I’m good and ready, after our break.


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Is there a future for lifers in business today?


Who spends their entire working life with one company any more? Does the end of careers spent with a single employer mean the end of alumni associations and their attendant lunches/get-togethers, long-term service awards and even retirement dinners? Most baby boomers probably had more than one job during the course of our decades-long working lives, although there are some who may have spent the majority of their career at one company.

When I started working for Bell Canada (then called The Bell Telephone Company of Canada) in 1965, it was common for people to spend their entire lives working for one large corporation like Bell, General Motors, an insurance company or Ontario Hydro. Those companies attracted new hires with such incentives as paid on-the-job training, benefits and pensions—even though those perks were the last things on our young minds way back then. Now that we realize the importance of company pensions, it’s too late and most companies no longer offer them.

Job security and guaranteed pensions have become an anachronism.

Perhaps we intended to stay with a single employer when we started work. After all, our parents grew up in the Depression and just having a job was something to be revered and appreciated. But as time went on, perhaps we got restless, wanted a change of scenery or were offered a better position at another company. Consequently, most of us had half a dozen jobs or so over the span of our working lives. I did spent a major portion of my working life with EllisDon Corporation (builder of Rogers Centre, formerly SkyDome, and other multi-million dollar projects) but I did have enough other jobs to qualify as being well-rounded career-wise.

I was honoured recently to be asked to speak on The Joy of Retirement at an alumni lunch for retired and former Toronto area employees of Coca-Cola Canada. With my baby boomer-targeted blog and a new book coming out, they thought my message would resonate and inspire. In discussions with attendees and fellow speakers prior to the luncheon, it soon became obvious that while we have so many common denominators, we’re not like earlier generations of retired people. We’re healthier; we live longer; we’re working from a different playbook in planning and living out our retirement.

We’re also a vanishing breed in a world of young people with short interest spans who change jobs every couple of years. This means the day will soon come when there will be no alumni associations because workers will no longer identify with a single employer. Any friendships we develop with co-workers are most often maintained by individuals themselves as corporations lend very little support to the alumni ethos. The old days of “Bell Pioneers” and other groups of retirees supported and respected by their former employer may be numbered.

One of the lessons I learned during four decades in the corporate world is that there’s no reward for loyalty in business. Those all-nighters we pulled to meet a deadline, the weekends spent working instead of being with family, the stress associated with our jobs will not be noted on our tombstones, nor would we want it to be. It is most certainly not noted by our former employers. Having watched their parents or grandparents sacrificing so much for their jobs, millennials have rejected this mindset by insisting on more balance with their personal lives and much as it irks me at times, I can’t fault them.

So, as we pay out of our own pockets for those alumni lunches, let’s enjoy the company of our former coworkers as long as we can. Those people understand what we’ve been through together and they share our joy in being retired, as no one else can. Those lunches are just another one of those dinosaurs going the way of long-term service awards and company pension plans . . . and baby boomers.


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There must be intelligent life beyond weed


Will the never-ending news about the legalization of marijuana in Canada ever stop? I’m sick to death of the monopolization of every form of radio, television, internet and print media for weeks focussing on nothing but the pros and cons of our newly legal recreational and therapeutic weed. I’m sure it’s a fascinating subject to many people but I’ve had enough of the over-reporting. It’s like watching O.J.’s white Bronco all those years ago.

I think I finally understand  the difference between THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) which has mood elevating effects and CBD (cannabidiol) which is primarily used for medicinal purposes, although I had to Google it to be sure. As someone who stops after a glass or two of wine (which I enjoy enormously, but had to curtail because it gives me an instant hangover), I really don’t like my brain operating beyond my control. Just a personal preference not shared by many people, but I am what I am.

The chemical analysis and application of various strains of weed and its attendant effects on human beings has been discussed, analyzed, explained and debated by so many sources for so many weeks lately I should be an expert by now but mostly I’ve tuned out. Being a non-smoker means that when my ailments require me to look at its medicinal properties, I’ll probably opt for the gummy bears or brownies. I have no objection to getting a little help with pain or sleep issues, but getting high is just not on my radar. For those individuals who feel the need to self-medicate or alter their mood, that’s none of my business. We all have different ways of getting through life.

Oh Canada!

Canada’s liberal attitude toward marijuana, gay marriage and other social issues is to be commended. Our prisons are full of recreational users who probably should not be there. Baby boomers came of age when it was still illegal to be homosexual in Canada. It was finally decriminalized in 1969 although persecution in the military and police forces continued for another twenty-five years. I’m not qualified to present a case for or against illegal drug use but I am proud that Canada is finally eliminating the criminal aspect of using recreational weed. The end of liquor prohibition didn’t result in America descending into Dante’s inferno and neither will the legalization of marijuana. There will be problems for sure, but it’s up to us as a society to manage the inevitable bumps in the road and over time that will happen.

Now that simple possession of marijuana is legal in Canada, maybe our nightly news can once again return to its regular, unending reporting of murders, stabbings, wars, robberies, car accidents, rip-off scams, political disasters and other everyday events. Can you believe, I’d almost welcome it. It’s time to move on, with a little help from our friends.