Advanced Search
MyIDEAS: Login

Management Practices, Relational Contracts, and the Decline of General Motors

Contents:

Author Info

  • Susan Helper
  • Rebecca Henderson

Abstract

General Motors was once regarded as one of the best managed and most successful firms in the world, but between 1980 and 2009 its share of the US market fell from 62.6 to 19.8 percent, and in 2009 the firm went bankrupt. In this paper we argue that the conventional explanation for this decline – namely high legacy labor and health care costs – is seriously incomplete, and that GM’s share collapsed for many of the same reasons that many of the other highly successful American firms of the 50s, 60s and 70s were forced from the market, including a failure to understand the nature of the competition they faced and an inability to respond effectively once they did. We focus particularly on the problems GM encountered in developing the relational contracts essential to modern design and manufacturing. We discuss a number of possible causes for these difficulties: including GM’s historical practice of treating both its suppliers and its blue collar workforce as homogeneous, interchangeable entities, and its view that expertise could be partitioned so that there was minimal overlap of knowledge amongst functions or levels in the organizational hierarchy and decisions could be made using well-defined financial criteria. We suggest that this dynamic may have important implications for our understanding of the role of management in the modern, knowledge based firm, and for the potential revival of manufacturing in the United States.

Download Info

If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.
File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w19867.pdf
Download Restriction: Access to the full text is generally limited to series subscribers, however if the top level domain of the client browser is in a developing country or transition economy free access is provided. More information about subscriptions and free access is available at http://www.nber.org/wwphelp.html. Free access is also available to older working papers.

As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to look for a different version under "Related research" (further below) or search for a different version of it.

Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 19867.

as in new window
Length:
Date of creation: Jan 2014
Date of revision:
Publication status: published as Susan Helper & Rebecca Henderson, 2014. "Management Practices, Relational Contracts, and the Decline of General Motors," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 28(1), pages 49-72, Winter.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:19867

Note: IO PR
Contact details of provider:
Postal: National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138, U.S.A.
Phone: 617-868-3900
Email:
Web page: http://www.nber.org
More information through EDIRC

Related research

Keywords:

Other versions of this item:

Find related papers by JEL classification:

This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:

References

References listed on IDEAS
Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:
as in new window
  1. Simon Board, 2011. "Relational Contracts and the Value of Loyalty," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 101(7), pages 3349-67, December.
  2. Jin Li & Niko Matouschek, 2013. "Managing Conflicts in Relational Contracts," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 103(6), pages 2328-51, October.
  3. Sylvain Chassang, 2010. "Building Routines: Learning, Cooperation, and the Dynamics of Incomplete Relational Contracts," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 100(1), pages 448-65, March.
  4. Marina Halac, 2012. "Relational Contracts and the Value of Relationships," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 102(2), pages 750-79, April.
  5. Akerlof, George A, 1984. "Gift Exchange and Efficiency-Wage Theory: Four Views," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 74(2), pages 79-83, May.
  6. Susan Helper, 2011. "Challenge and opportunity in the U.S. auto industry: the key role of suppliers," ECONOMIA E POLITICA INDUSTRIALE, FrancoAngeli Editore, vol. 2011(2), pages 51-68.
  7. Marvin B. Lieberman & Shigeru Asaba, 1997. "Inventory Reduction and Productivity Growth: A Comparison of Japanese and US Automotive Sectors," Managerial and Decision Economics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 18(2), pages 73-85.
  8. Helper, Susan & Levine, David I, 1992. "Long-Term Supplier Relations and Product-Market Structure," Journal of Law, Economics and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 8(3), pages 561-81, October.
Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

Citations

Lists

This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.

Statistics

Access and download statistics

Corrections

When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:19867. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: ().

If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.

If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.