Management Practices, Relational Contracts, and the Decline of General Motors
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.
|Date of creation:||Jan 2014|
|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.|
|Contact details of provider:|| Postal: National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138, U.S.A.|
Web page: http://www.nber.org
More information through EDIRC
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.:
- Marina Halac, 2012. "Relational Contracts and the Value of Relationships," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 102(2), pages 750-779, April.
- Simon Board, 2011. "Relational Contracts and the Value of Loyalty," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 101(7), pages 3349-3367, December.
- Jin Li & Niko Matouschek, 2013. "Managing Conflicts in Relational Contracts," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 103(6), pages 2328-2351, October.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 561-581, October.
- 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.
- Sylvain Chassang, 2010. "Building Routines: Learning, Cooperation, and the Dynamics of Incomplete Relational Contracts," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 100(1), pages 448-465, March.
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 references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.