The Big Three Want Us to Support Them

So Why Don't They Return the Favor?

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Bill Imada Bill Imada
As an entrepreneur and business owner, it goes against my grain to support a massive government bailout of any corporation, including the Big Three automakers. Ad-agency owners already know that we pay more than our fair share of taxes to the federal government and often wonder what we receive in return. If Congress and President Bush do authorize this multibillion-dollar bailout of the auto industry, this action clearly begs the question: Is this only a temporary solution that postpones the inevitable failure of the U.S. auto industry? Can U.S. automakers really make significant changes to compete effectively and profitably in today's competitive global economy? The answers to these questions are complicated, but because the Big Three touch so many agencies, suppliers and entrepreneurs, I am now supporting a bailout, but with stipulations.

Originally, my gut feeling was to force the major automakers to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Chapter 11 would afford each of these companies some breathing space to review, reorganize and renew the way they do business. While this seemed like a viable option, a number of vendors and suppliers, including a large number of advertising and marketing agencies, will suffer. Bankruptcy filings will also have an impact on thousands of autoworkers, retirees and entrepreneurs who work directly or indirectly with the Big Three automakers, compounding the financial distress of our country's economy. A bailout with some governmental oversight seems to be the only viable solution.

When I talked about the possibility of a bailout with other Asian Americans, I get a mixed response. Jane Pak, principal of Pert Strategies in Santa Monica, Calif., reminded me that people in this country believe that they can achieve the proverbial American dream through hard work. Yet with our economy in shambles, the very foundation of our country that embraces the belief that anyone can succeed in this land of opportunity is now being challenged by growing public uncertainty and despair. Like me, Jane is concerned about the 99% of the people who will be severely affected by the failure of the Big Three automakers -- not necessarily the 1% of senior executives who are protected by their employment contracts.

Jane summed it up best by saying that the U.S. auto industry is like a ship. Those employed by them are their passengers. If the ship goes down, so do all on board. A bailout may be the only solution to keep the ship afloat, preserving some of the ideals of the many who still believe in achieving the American Dream -- especially the little guys (and gals) in communities throughout the country who support the auto industry as vendors, suppliers, restaurant employees and retail workers.

But where are the Big Three when it comes to marketing to Asian-American consumers and the Asian-American community? Over the past several months, I have seen advertising and event sponsorships by Hyundai, Honda, Subaru and Toyota. And not long ago, Nissan appointed an Asian-American ad agency to handle its advertising. What do these Asian automakers know that the U.S. automakers don't? DaimlerChrysler makes only minimal efforts in our market and General Motors and Ford do even less. Yet these same automakers say that they need assistance from our community to convince lawmakers that they should receive a taxpayer bailout.

In response, one of my colleagues said: "You're Asian American and these automakers who are engaged in the community have their roots in Asia. Of course they're going to support the Asian and Asian-American communities." Well, not exactly. Let me clarify. I am an American first. And no, these Asian automakers aren't engaged in the Asian-American community because they're Asia-based; rather, they do it because it is a good business decision. They sell cars to Asians and Asian-Americans. They sell cars to white, African-American, Latino and American-Indian consumers, too. But they also know that they should target consumers who are in the best financial position to purchase cars. Asian-American consumers are more likely than other consumers to purchase new cars, and are among the easiest to target since our communities are concentrated in key regions of the country and consume both in-language and in-culture media.

The Big Three can learn a lot from these Asian automakers. Build plants where there is a work force that recognizes that they are in business to make money. Have an assembly process that is nimble and able to adapt quickly to changing consumer needs and demands. Recognize and reward employees for their hard work and for their great ideas so they don't feel compelled to form a bargaining unit that doesn't watch the bottom line. And most importantly, be willing to support your competitors in times of need.

The Asian automakers aren't opposed to the bailout; rather, they support it. It isn't in their best interests for the U.S. automakers to fail. Asian automakers have ties to the Big Three and other automakers because they often share the same suppliers and vendors. A weakened vendor or group of suppliers can impact the entire cycle for producing great cars. Additionally, a weakened group of automakers does not inspire the development and creation of newer, more efficient and more attractive vehicles. Strong competition, along with great creative agency partners and suppliers, support this drive for innovation, customer satisfaction, and employee pride.

Yes, I do support the bailout but expect a great deal more from the Big Three. However, before we all agree to a bailout, they must clearly demonstrate that they are serious about being a competitive and innovative force in a globalized world; make compelling decisions on the way they conduct business in the future; target a more diverse consumer base that truly reflects the U.S. population; and, have a stronger entrepreneurial culture. But most important, they need to prove to all of us that they will use taxpayer's monies wisely and to the best interests of the American public. Because if they fail, so fails a part of the American Dream.

I welcome your comments. I'd also welcome a seat on the board of one of the Big Three.
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