The Inside Story of the “Keep GM” Movement

Lansing Michigan
Lansing Michigan
The city of Lansing, Michigan, has more than 100 years of involvement with General Motors – a give-and-take between GM and the community, and an example of competitive dynamics in play in the Lansing and Michigan areas. (Getty Images)

One mayor’s dynamic, collaborative management model essentially saved a U.S. manufacturing city – Lansing, Michigan – using public-private partnerships. Here’s how it was done.

This is a guest post. The post was co-authored by David Closs, Tomas Hult and David Hollister.

When car-making giant General Motors decided to close its plant in Lansing, Michigan, in 1996, one person – the city’s newly elected mayor, David Hollister – stood up and said “no.” Hollister’s “no” began a five-year competitive, collaborative, strategically intricate process to keep GM in town. Not once in its century-long history had GM reversed a decision to close a plant. But Mayor Hollister quietly went to work building the “Lansing Works! Keep GM!” movement – and succeeded in defying all the odds.

The Framework

Hollister’s collaborative problem-solving approach – the “Second Shift Model” – succeeded in bringing together state and regional politicians, economic developers, private sector firms, labor unions, educators, and residents of the region. Powerful, persuasive and well organized, this coalition implemented a strategic, six-dimensional framework to achieve the seemingly impossible. The six dimensions have been illustrated in animated form and they are:

  • Identifying: Name the challenge and its impact
  • Partnering: Develop meaningful relationships
  • Building: Construct the strategy as you go
  • Solving: Engage in constant problem solving
  • Celebrating: Mark successful milestones
  • Persevering: Adapt and endure

The “Lansing Works! Keep GM!“ movement was a victory of people over bureaucracy, of a can-do attitude over cynicism – a story rarely told in today’s complex, technological, and often dehumanizing world of big business and out-of-control government. And the best part was that, in the end, both sides came away winners. It’s proof positive that when the public and private sectors work together as equal partners, amazing things can happen.

Tom Izzo, Head Basketball Coach at Michigan State University and 2016 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Inductee, highlighted the amazing things that happened with GM in the community: “Teamwork and rebounding win a lot of basketball games, and teamwork and rebounding helped Lansing save GM in town. Second Shift shows what true collaboration, a shared vision, and hard work can do for a community.”

Debbie Stabenow, Senior Senator from the state of Michigan, echoes mayor Hollister’s tenacity and team approach: “Second Shift captures a truly unique and uplifting story of teamwork on a whole new level. It’s a tribute to General Motors, its workers, and to leaders across the community who came together with a common purpose. Second Shift defines teamwork in a new way and is full of meaningful lessons for leaders and communities across our country.”

Lou Anna K. Simon, President of Michigan State University, captures this sentiment well: “No one can ever take what you have for granted, particularly in this very complex global marketplace. Decisions are often made by those who do not have personal knowledge of the community. Thus, every day we must continue to grow the value of our work to diverse stakeholders. Second Shift is an exceptional story of perseverance.”

The Result

The city now has two of only 18 GM plants in the U.S. (and two of the 78 assembly plants worldwide). The economic benefits are in the billions of dollars (more than $3 billion just in plants), with direct and indirect employment affecting some 77,000 people in Michigan (around 7,000 GM employees and 70,000 people working for suppliers to the two Lansing-based GM plants).

The Second Shift Model is focused on driving win-win solutions with the problem-solving framework that kept GM in Lansing. Ultimately, “true satisfaction has many stakeholders… the Second Shift Model provides a superb road map to get all stakeholders engaged,” said Claes Fornell, Founder of the American Customer Satisfaction Index and Chair of the Board of Directors of CFI Group Worldwide.

And, more important than Lansing keeping GM, communities around the world can learn from the Second Shift Model to solve complex and dynamic problems of their own. Politics, competitive dynamics, and a “me first” attitude can be set aside by implementing this model.

When Hollister and colleague Ray Tadgerson started the “Lansing Works! Keep GM!” process, they noted that “Lansing is a great place to invest, live, work, recreate and raise a family.” This rings true more than ever. As a Lansing-born, 35-year second-generation veteran of GM stated, “Lansing needs GM, and GM needs Lansing.”

About the authors: David Hollister was mayor of Lansing, Michigan from 1994 to 2003. Ray Tadgerson is former CEO and president of architectural engineering firm C2AE. David Closs is Professor and McConnell Endowed Chair of Supply Chain Management at Michigan State University. Tomas Hult is Professor and Byington Endowed Chair of International Business at Michigan State University. They are the authors of Second Shift: The Inside Story of the Keep GM Movement. The story has also been made into a 54-minute documentary film.

David Hollister
Mayor of Lansing, Michigan from 1994 to 2003