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Second Shift: The Inside Story of the Keep GM Movement

September 06, 2016

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David Hollister, Ray Tadgerson, David Closs, and G. Tomas M. Hult tell the story of something that's happened precious little in the so-called American Rust Belt—fought to keep a factory that was slated to close in town.

The lede of the story is that Lansing, Michigan was able to convince General Motors to stay in their community after they had already decided to leave. Not only that, they got them to massively reinvest (over one billion dollars) in their community and build muliple new state-of-the-art manufacturing plants in the region. It is partly the story of a young, pro-labor mayor partnering with business, educational institutions, and state and local governments. It involved a plan to not only keep middle class jobs in the community, but to reinforce and ensure their existence for decades to come. The story involves a lot of people, moving parts, and convincing of what had always been competing interests to work in common cause and pull in the same direction.

That is the story told in Second Shift: The Inside Story of the Keep GM Movement. And, when you consider the recent run of plant closings in the US at the time, it is a very unlikely story, indeed:

 

GM plants that actually closed during the mid-1990s included Baltimore, Maryland; Buick City in Flint, Michigan; Dayton/Vandalia, Ohio; Doraville, Georgia; Grand Rapids, Michigan; Janesville, Wisconsin; Linden, New Jersey; Livonia, Michigan; Mansfield, Ohio; Massena, New York; Moraine, Ohio; North Tarrytown, New York; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Pontiac, Michigan; Saginaw, Michigan; Shreveport, Louisiana; Trenton, New Jersey; Willow Run, Michigan; and Wilmington, Delaware.

 

The closing of Lansing would affect over 77,000 jobs—7,000 at GM itself, and 70,000 others indirectly related spread out among vendors and other supporting industries and infrastructure throughout the Lansing area and the rest of Michigan—which, if you take a look at the list of plant closings above, you'll notice above was already being hit hard. That was the challenge facing a young, first time mayor named David Hollister (yes, one of the co-authors of the book) from almost the moment he took office. His response, rather than demonizing the departing corporation, was to pull the community and wider region together, including anyone within GM he could get in front of or in contact with. In fact…

 

Hollister went so far as to develop a handwritten organizational chart of GM executives, including, importantly, their roles in plant strategy decisions. … It was necessary to organize an inclusive team of regional leaders to effectively capture all potential tangents in the effort.

 

He had Ray Tadgerson, his right hand (and another co-author), put together a committee with the goal of keeping GM in Lansing.

 

At its peak, more than 50 of the region's key citizens and leaders in business, labor, education, and local and state government participated in the Blue Ribbon Committee to Retain GM.

 

Beside the Blue Ribbon Committee coming together on the larger planning, strategy, and engineering issues, they developed a Rapid Response Team to react quickly to developments on the ground. The model they came up with, The Second Shift Model, took its name from plant manager Jim Zubkus's decision to build the Oldsmobile Alero, which was supposed to be the last GM product produced in Lansing, on the plant's second shift, "sending a message to GM's corporate headquarters in Detroit that Lansing had the best workforce in the GM arsenal." And while the plant was working on proving itself in that final commission, David Hollister was working on making sure it would not, in fact, be their final commission.

The Second Shift Model was a six-dimensional framework which provided the infrastructure and inspiration to business, labor, and educational leaders working together. It included:

  • Identifying: "naming the challenge and its potential impact."
  • Partnership: "developing meaningful relationships" to address the challenge.
  • Building: "constructing the strategy" to address the challenge.
  • Solving: "engaging in constant problem solving."
  • Celebrating: "marking successful milestones."
  • Persevering: "adapting and enduring to get the tasks done."

The book is constructed pretty much as any easy-to-follow business book would be, with a chapter dedicated to each part of that framework. If I have one knock on the book, it's that it's a bit redundant. Stories and lessons are repeated often. But they're such remarkable stories that perhaps that's not a bad thing. And keeping GM was just a part of a much larger effort.

During this time, they also got Jackson Life Insurance to stick around and build its new headquarters in the Lansing region, got a minor-league baseball team from central Illinois to relocate to downtown Lansing and build a stadium there, and embarked on an ambitious effort to improve the quality of Lansing schools called CLASS (Commission on Lansing Schools Success). That educational effort alone is worth highlighting:

 

The Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce agreed to be the focal point of the initiative and to house its day-to-day operations. Within days, an office was established, a telephone hotline (319-KIDS) was operationalized, and General Motors, the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce, Michigan State University, Lansing Community College, and the City of Lansing joined together and contributed more than $500,000 in resources to the education endevour.

 

Of course, that funding, while crucial, was just the beginning of the overall effort. Combined with an orgnaized civic effort and with the citizens behind it, combined with the cooperation of General Motors and the United Auto Workers to help teach the curriculum and the 1,100 volunteers that tutored high-risk third graders in reading at the peak of the initiative, it changed education in the city and created an atmosphere of inclusiveness and togetherness that perhaps helped do more for the life of those in the city than convince General Motors to stay.

And it all started on the second shift. Keeping General Motors as the lifeblood of the economy was the goal, but it was the pulling together of the city and the surrounding communities, city and suburbs, that I found myself most inspired. It is a tale of citizens working together on a grassroots level, and the local politicians and institutions that represent them—which historically had been at odds, competing for resources—coming together and cooperating on a governmental level. Second Shift: The Inside Story of the Keep GM Movement is about a region coming together, and (especially sitting in a region as divided politically as Greater Milwaukee is) that example, and the framework they provide to replicate it, is the real treasure here.

We have 20 copies available.

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