01 Sep 2016

The Untold Story of the US Auto Bailout

New alumni-made documentary offers look at “what really happened”
Re: George Bush (MBA 1975); Joe Hinrichs (MBA 1994); John Smith (MBA 1976); Ron Bloom (MBA 1985); Harry Wilson (MBA 1999); Rick Wagoner (MBA 1977); Clayton Christensen
by Julia Hanna


The US automotive industry collapse was one of the most important business stories to come out of the 2008 financial crisis—and like so many events of that time, it was big on headlines but short on nuance. To address that shortfall, sectionmates and media veterans Didier Pietri and Bill Burke (both MBA 1992) have written, produced, and directed Live Another Day, a documentary in the spirit of Inside Job that delves into the government bailout of General Motors and the Chrysler-Fiat merger through extensive research and interviews with key players in the government and automotive industry—many of them HBS alumni. “If you think you know the story of the auto bailout, think again,” says Pietri. “This is what really happened.”

Based on the book Crash Course, by Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Paul Ingrassia, the documentary—the first to come from the pair’s Argos Pictures—will be released in theaters nationally September 16.

“Many of the patterns and issues that existed before the bailout are still present today,” says Burke, who was born outside Detroit in Pontiac. “We think it’s important for people to be better informed if and when we go through something like this again.”

Courtesy Argos Pictures; iStock

“Because Congress failed to make funds available for these loans, the plan I’m announcing today will be drawn from the financial rescue package Congress approved earlier this fall. The terms of the loans will require auto companies to demonstrate how they will become viable.”
—President George W. Bush (MBA 1975) in December 2008, on diverting $17.4 billion in government funds to bail out GM and Chrysler

“I went to business school because I thought it was important that unions understand how companies work. I wrote an essay to get into HBS that said, ‘You have 800 business guys, you need 1 union guy.’ So they let me in. All I’ve ever done is try to work on complicated problems involving multiple stakeholders in large manufacturing companies that are important to the country and that are in trouble. So this is it. I have to do this.”
Ron Bloom (MBA 1985), on accepting his role in February 2009 as senior advisor, Presidential Task Force on the Auto Industry

“The Chrysler question was a very complicated one, because unlike General Motors, it wasn’t necessarily too big to fail.”
Harry Wilson (MBA 1999), senior advisor, Presidential Task Force on the Auto Industry, on events leading to the January 2009 Chrysler-Fiat partnership

“If the work was outsourced, you were guaranteed 100 percent of your pay. You could come sit in the cafeteria and ‘work’ all day, but there was no work to do. ...There were thousands of people sitting around getting paid, reading the paper, reading books.”
Joe Hinrichs (MBA 1994), president, the Americas, Ford Motor Company, on the company’s recovery strategy

“[We] met as a team and committed to each other that we were going to find a way to get this done without needing government support. A lot of it was motivated by all the negative energy and animosity in DC towards the auto industry.”
John Smith (MBA 1976), group VP, global product planning, GM, on the controversial UAW jobs bank program

“He did remarkable things. And the people who fired Rick had never done anything of that magnitude. And yet they simplistically said, ‘Well, if we just get a new manager, we’ll solve the problem.’ ”
—HBS professor Clay Christensen, on the forced resignation of Rick Wagoner (MBA 1977) as chairman and CEO of General Motors in March 2009

Featured Alumni

Featured Alumni

Class of MBA 1992, Section E
Class of MBA 1992, Section E

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