Thursday, April 30, 2009

Chrysler files For Bankruptcy! Why am I smiling?

In 1958, I was operating a tiny advertising agency in Kansas City, mostly helping local radio advertisers who needed more service than the local radio stations could or would provide.

Also in Kansas City at the time was a small Plymouth auto dealership named Northcutt Plymouth. Northcutt was struggling, for reasons I do not recall, and Chrysler took over the operation of the dealership. They placed an old pro Kansas City auto retailer named Jack Williams in charge and named the dealership after him. Jack needed help with his radio advertising, and I got the job.

It was a tough account. Jack was a stern taskmaster. He insisted on a sales meeting every Monday morning, during which I, and his entire sales staff, were berated. He always wanted a completely new idea for the following weekend. That meant I had to come up with an idea, then write and produce the commercials and have them on the air by Wednesday.

Jack Williams Plymouth was no more successful than Northcutt Plymouth and Jack suggested to Chrysler that they close the dealership. I no longer remember the problem, but I can give you a clue. I bought a new Plymouth station wagon from Jack. It was okay, but its big V-8 engine required premium (leaded) gasoline and got a whopping eight miles per gallon. No misprint... 8 mpg!

When the dealership closed its doors, I submitted my final bill which, of course, included the amount owed the radio stations. I've forgotten the total, but it was a few thousand... a big chunk for me at the time. Chrysler said they would not pay the bill.

I immediately filed suit in a local court and the judge ordered Chrysler to pay. Chrysler said they would not pay. They were a Michigan Corporation over which the Missouri court had no jurisdiction. I called my attorney and said we are going to Michigan.

My attorney was more than my lawyer, he was my friend. He explained that I would have to hire a Michigan attorney who was licensed to practice before the Michigan court. On the other hand, Chrysler has lots of lawyers on their payroll. When my case came up in a Michigan court, one of them would appear and tell the judge they were very, very busy and simply had not had time to prepare for the case. Would he please reschedule?

The judge would consider that Chrysler, a huge local employer, was reasonably asking for more time. Anyway, who was this nobody with the claim? From where? Kansas City? Request to reschedule granted.

I would then pay my Michigan lawyer for his time, get back on the airplane and go home. At some future date, it would all be repeated. And it could be repeated over and over. So, my lawyer advised, don't keep pumping good money after bad. Take your lumps and move on. I did.

I did not file for bankruptcy, I just sucked it up, paid the radio stations for the Jack Williams advertising, and kept going.

Today I hear some people questioning the creditors who have forced Chrysler into Chapter 11. Let me assure you, if I were one of those creditors, I would have done the same. They provided Chrysler with money, products or services in good faith that they would be paid. Now Chrysler, and Obama, said they should forget it - in the best interest of the greater economy? Forget you, Mr. President. Its time for Chrysler and their U.A.W. buddies to suck it up.

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