Strategic Leadership: Case Study
Strategic Leadership in a Transnational Context – Griffin Motor Manufacturing Company (USA and Europe) in the 1990s
The Griffin Motor Manufacturing Company is an independent producer of bespoke luxury sports and utility vehicles. Griffin is based in the USA but has a large
European market with production sites in the UK and Germany. During the 1980s the Company over extended itself in its response to the growing luxury car
market and made losses of several million dollars during that decade. Unusually when compared to other car manufacturers the more austere 1990s saw a return
The transformation of the Company from a loss maker to profit maker started early in the 1990s when the company reviewed other like manufacturing companies
to identify key characteristics in success to establish any common features. In response to the findings the Senior Executive Team redefined the core
operating values as the `4Ps` (people, products, processes and profits) leading to a restated organisational mission and vision. The main changes identified
as central to the success of the new strategy were an improved level of employee involvement through a system of participative management and leadership.
In the USA the main organisational issues affecting performance were linked to the cultural consequences of a horizontally differentiated organisation where
departments acted independently of each other. The new participative management and leadership approach was directly aimed at breaking down the subcultures
that resulted from the functional structure. Participative management and leadership were supplemented by a new marketing campaign based on innovative design
and this also encouraged cross function co-operation.
Progress toward the new mission and vision in the Griffin USA operating arm was overseen by two key actors – the Chairman Ron Rabsen and President Henry
Rolling. The two very different characters complemented one another achieving a balance in leadership between visionary, transformational change and
transactional control. Rabsen acted as the main visionary with Rolling ensuring appropriate local responses to the overall goals of the organisation.
In particular the change process relied on the breaking of organisational mindsets that drove internal dysfunctions. Rabsen decided to challenge the
organisation by taking a very unusual approach within the industry – he encouraged participative decision-making based on individuals with senior management
roles encouraging their open communication, respect for others and co-operative working.
The tale of Griffin Europe does not however map onto that of Griffin USA. The changes that worked in the USA took much longer to enact in the European
setting. Traditional approaches to top management decision making remained unchallenged and were dominated by concerns around the financial position of
Griffin in the European markets especially against other luxury vehicle manufacturers. The approach to improvement in overall performance was based on
increasing production in order to achieve economies of scale – an approach at odds with the new mission and vision and the production of bespoke vehicles.
The unique selling point of a unique product was sacrificed for a drive toward the mass production approach of competing luxury car manufacturers.
The new organizational mission and vision were not considered a major Griffin Europe priority with the emphasis on transactional leadership concerns. The
European Director, Bob Mayden, had an unchallenged hierarchical position so there was no balance in approach as was achieved in Griffin USA through the
Rabsen/Rolling leadership relationship. Mayden followed a `top down` rather than `bottom up` decision making approach. He was particularly focused on
reducing costs through management control. The strong subcultures therefore remained in place through most of the 1990s with barriers to cultural change
remaining. Griffin Europe did improve production costs but remained well behind Griffin USA in the adoption of participative leadership that had worked well
for that arm of the company. The eventual adoption of participative leadership in Griffin Europe happened only after Mayden had taken on a different
leadership role within the company and the mission and vision could be meaningfully espoused through the new leadership cadre.
Please consider the following:
1. What are the main contextual issues that impact on strategic leadership in Griffin in the USA and Europe?
2. Critically analyse the main contextual challenges for Griffin leaders?
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