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Jon Talton

Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.

December 22, 2009 at 10:10 AM

Moving on up, Washington executives may not have an easy ride

Top of the News: Two Washingtonians face interesting reality checks in their new jobs. GM has named former Microsoft CFO Chris Liddell as its chief financial officer. Arizona State University has tapped Lee Cheatham, executive director of the Washington Technology Center to run its tech transfer efforts.

Whatever the ambitions of GM’s board, Detroit car culture has defeated many a reformer. And “bean counters” are often at sea in a world that rewards the ideas of the “car guys.” One reason Saab came to grief was GM’s financial tightwads threw away its distinctive culture and operations, folding the unit into the one-side-fits all GM model that had produced such distinctive and successful cars since the 1970s. It’s the same reason Saturn failed.

Of course, Liddell will be rewarded lavishly — $700,000 a year, plus $3 million in restricted stock grants, according to the Wall Street Journal. And he gets to drive the GM vehicle of his choice (go for the ‘vette). If he can handle the repayment of federal aid, maybe he’ll be in line to become CEO.

Cheatham faces a state with a very conservative Legislature that has consistently fought against university funding and research, as well as a state constitution that prohibits easy commercialization of university research. A badly explained initiative to amend the constitution a few years ago died. And he’ll be working for Michael Crow, ASU’s visionary, entrepreneurial and very demanding president.

Toto, we’re not in Seattle anymore.

Today’s Econ Haiku:

Revised GDP

Wasn’t as strong as first billed

Who’s surprised by this?

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