“My Best Mistake:” Working for General Motors


As a LinkedIn “Influencer,” I was invited to contribute a story to the “My Best Mistake” series. I wrote about something I, at first, thought was a mistake… taking my first job out of college at General Motors.

In the piece, I write about why I wasn't interested in a job at General Motors, but why I took a job there anyway (one plant's supposed dedication to the “Deming Philosophy” of W. Edwards Deming). Alas, I learned the “Livonia Philosophy” was (ironically) just a poster and slogan on the wall.

My Best Mistake: Working at General Motors

But, it turned out to be a great learning experience… but, sadly, the Livonia Engine Plant was closed as a result of GM's bankruptcy, even with the great improvements they had made after we got a new plant manager who was one of the first GM people to learn from the GM/Toyota NUMMI joint venture (as you can hear about here).

A photo of the closed plant:

Livonia Engine Plant

Read more here.


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Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker who has worked in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. His latest book is Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. He also published the anthology Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.

  1. David McGan says

    As bad as it was for the employees, it was just as bad for the suppliers.

  2. David Divoky says

    Back in the early 90’s, I was fortunate to have had an internship with a company called Amtex, a supplier of automotive carpets to the NUMMI facility in Fremont, California. It was quite a learning experience and I certainly saw firsthand the clear and evident commitment on the part of the company to its employees. Toyota, even in Japan and contrary to popular myth, does not guarantee lifetime employment. No employer can credibly make such a guarantee. What an employer can do and what Toyota does is state that the last thing the company wants to do is lay off employees. Only as a last resort will it turn to reducing the work force. Through such a policy, real trust can develop between the company and employees, along with the motivation for employees to accept responsibility and take ownership. At NUMMI, this policy was called “mutual trust.” However, the plant since closed back in 2010, and the facility is now the new TESLA plant.

    1. Mark Graban says

      Thanks, David. It’s sad that something as simple as “mutual trust” is missing from so many organizations.

      I wonder how things are, culture wise, at the plant now that it’s Tesla.

  3. […] When I worked at GM from 1995 to 1997, it was VERY male driven. The only female manager I can remember in my plant was the head of quality. The plant manager, everybody at the level below him, and all of the managers and supervisors I worked with were men. There were many women in the engineering ranks and on the assembly line. But leadership (or what passed for it there) still seemed to be a very male domain. […]

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