In July 2014, amid a spiraling safety recall involving millions of cars and over a dozen deaths, the CEO of General Motors (GM), Mary Barra, made her way once more to Capitol Hill. Accompanying her was GM’s general counsel, Michael Millikin. His department was linked to GM’s delay issuing the recall, according to an exhaustive 315-page report commissioned after revelations that GM had known about the safety defect for at least ten years. Congress, the press, shareholders, and the general public wanted to know why GM waited a decade to pull unsafe cars off the road, and why Millikin hadn’t yet resigned.
The case follows missteps inside General Motors as engineers and lawyers grappled with engine stalls, customer complaints, and frustrated investigations, with a particular focus on GM’s legal department. It raises questions about leadership, accountability, and crisis management in corporate legal departments. The case also examines challenges confronting GM’s in-house lawyers as they communicated with teams across technical specialties in a thick bureaucracy and challenging corporate culture. The (A) case presents GM’s recent history, details the issues faced by the company as it dealt with complaints of faulty ignition switches and airbags, and ends with the congressional testimony in the summer of 2014. The (B) case reports on developments after the July hearing as the company pursued internal reform.
The case highlights the challenges of problem solving in complex organizations and asks participants to generate prudent, thoughtful strategies of crisis and change management.
Crisis Management, Leadership, Accountability, Communication, Corporate Culture, Change Management
Geographic: Washington, DC and Detroit, MI
Event Year Begin: 2001
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