End of the Lion

Holden departs

WORDS TOBY HAGON

FEATURE / THEFINAL COUNTDOWN

UPBEAT MUSIC, THEN THE HAMMER BLOW. WE FOLLOW THE COUNTDOWN TO HOLDEN STAFF HEARING THAT THEIR JOBS WILL GO

THE MORNING OF Monday, February 17, 2020 was no different to any other for most at Holden’s Port Melbourne headquarters, not far from where the first Holden rolled off the production line in 1948.

Similarly, dealers were oblivious to the shock of the shutdown that would unfold hours later.

But by the time all would usually have been munching on lunch there was disbelief that the brand that once shaped the local automotive market had made the decision to pack up, ending an incredible run of legendary cars, iconic advertising campaigns and former market dominance.

While General Motors’ senior management in Detroit knew months earlier they would be terminating Holden, those on the ground had just four days to formulate a communications plan and ensure all stakeholders were informed about the unfolding events.

The decision was made to tell staff first, followed closely by dealers, then the media. Unsurprisingly, the enormity of the announcement meant there were leaks well before that 12:50pm media announcement.

FEB 13

Thursday

Managers and public relations executives are informed in various meetings of the decision to shut down the Holden brand. Each is told to formulate a plan specific for their team regarding communication and required actions.

FEB 14

Friday

A regular day for most Holden employees, but directors and senior managers start on plans to inform staff. This unprecedented work flows into Saturday and Sunday.

FEB 16

Sunday

General Motors senior vice-president of international operations Julian Blissett (below) leads meetings with directors and select senior managers to finalise the communication plan with staff, dealers, politicians and the media. Also included in the meetings are 10-15 GM staff from Detroit and Asia offices representing legal, human resources and public relations.

FEB 17

Monday

EARLY MORNING

Staff get a calendar request for an “all staff” meeting to take place at 12.30pm, along with a countdown timer and the Holden logo. The invite stipulates it is a mandatory meeting that will take place in The Atrium, which is the centre of Holden’s Port Melbourne headquarters. The same message goes out on Holden’s password-protected dealer website, declaring a “special announcement”. The accompanying upbeat music and countdown timer made some think it could be positive news.

11:00AM

Holden’s social media team updates its Facebook account with a post about the Trailblazer. It’s an indication of how most in the building had no idea of what was about to hit.

12:10PM

Early media reports are published stating the Holden brand was being killed off.

12:20PM

Staff begin gathering in The Atrium. Those at remote locations – such as the Proving Ground and travelling interstate – join in via video link.

12:30PM

Blissett speaks first to dealers that the decision “wind down” Holden in info rm staff and has been made to Aus tralia and New Zealand. Interim Holden chairman and Kristian Aquilina also meeting minu tes. Tears are emotio nal realisation be dead. managing director takes the microphone in a sombre that runs for about 45 shed for what is an that Holden will soon

12:40PM

Text messages and social media posts start spreading the word that Holden will soon be killed off.

12:45PM

Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s office is informed that an announcement will be made to kill off the Holden brand.

12:50PM

Holden’s PR department sends out a press release titled “Holden vehicle sales, design and engineering to cease in Australia and New Zealand”.

1:30PM

Staff break into groups for more detailed briefings by senior managers on what the announcement means for them. The senior managers also take questions and provide information on timing for various phases of the shutdown. The design team is joined by GM design chief (and former Holden design boss) Mike Simcoe.

1:45PM

Holden media conference begins from Room 204 at the Melbourne Convention Centre on the banks of the Yarra River. The 45-minute conference and Q&A is headed by Blissett and Aquilina and is streamed online and via telephone conference.

2:00PM

Shellshocked staff start making arrangements for the afternoon. Some head home, some to the pub, and some go back to work. Holden’s HR team is aware of the potential for the prospect of job losses to impact people’s mental health and says the company stands by to offer support and understanding as required.

2:40PM

Aquilina and Blissett take part in a Q&A sessions with dealer principals and the Holden Dealer Council to run through the impact of the closure decision on 185 Australian dealerships.