I got the idea from Parkwood, the home of Sam McLaughlin, founder of General Motors of Canada. "Colonel Sam" became very wealthy through his company, and he lived in this beautiful estate, which is now a historic site. During the Depression, he had a large wing added to it. He didn't need a bigger house. Instead, he did it to give jobs to several hundred local workers and suppliers who had been hit hard by the times.
Which brings me to my plan. In better times, the auto execs did very well for themselves, thanks to men and women in the auto plants, the supplier plants, the dealerships. Even now, they surely have enough socked away that they could spare a little. So Wagoner, Nardelli, Mulally, Tavares, Watanabe, Jacoby, et al -- it's time for you to think up some make-work projects. Not on behalf of the companies you run, but personal projects financed directly from your own pockets.
Put up a guest house or a new garage on your property. Landscape your gardens. Or better yet, put out the cash to build a senior's centre, a library, a food bank in your town. Make sure you hire local people to build it, and make sure they buy their building materials from the local suppliers.
And then you let everybody know what you're doing, and why you're doing it. Ladies and gentlemen, we've had to lay people off in our auto plants because of the economic crisis. I can't change that. But in this small way, I'm trying to make the transition easier for a few of our local workers, and a few of our local suppliers. And now I'm issuing a challenge to other executives, in all other industries. You made money when times were good. Now that times are bad, put some of that money you made back into your community. Each project may only directly help a small number of people. But if every one of us, who were fortunate enough in the good times, gets just a handful of people working, that number grows. I challenge all of you to do your part, one local job at a time.
A crazy idea? Maybe. But then, it was a crazy idea back in the early 1900s to put up a factory to make horseless carriages, too.
And I can tell you this: there are a lot of people who aren't happy with General Motors, but you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone in Oshawa who has a bad word for Sam McLaughlin. His name is still remembered for the parks, the library, the Scout camp, the hospital, and the house he helped to build. The city even named a civic holiday for him. Think about that, auto execs: to be remembered not for begging for a bailout, but for a selfless act that started at the grassroots and maybe turned into a wildfire.