Students, faculty and Board members at the Russian-American Christian University (RACU) in Moscow had the privilege of hosting Donald E. Mitchell, former Executive Director of Quality for General Motors, as a guest speaker at the first RACU Business Forum of the new academic year. Mitchell, who recently retired from General Motors but still serves as a consultant to this large automobile company on quality issues, was responsible for implementing a process to reduce warranty costs and improve quality at GM with the stated objective of saving the company $1.6 billion a year. He currently conducts seminars on quality worldwide and was in Russia to speak with industry leaders on this topic.
Mitchell began his presentation by contrasting his life before 1978, when he became a Christian, with his life after his conversion. Before 1978, he was a compulsive, hard-driving worker who began at the entry level at General Motors and was doing everything in his power to advance through the ranks, at the expense of his health, his family and his marriage. At a very low point in his life, his boss talked with him about giving his life to God and Mitchell responded in desperation. His life began to change dramatically and he had a “fresh, clean start” beginning that year.
Since that time, five key principles of leadership have shaped his life as a Christian in the marketplace: caring for the people in your work context and serving your employees; balancing your life priorities by placing God first, your family second, and your work third; working for the Lord, not just for your employer since the Lord is the owner of all businesses; following Biblical principles when making decisions, especially when so many decisions are in the “gray area”; and, finally, living your life at work in a way that is consistent with your personal Biblical values.
Mitchell illustrated each of these points in his own life, times when he failed as a leader and times when he was successful. When he was asked during the question period about his biggest challenge as a corporate leader at General Motors, he confessed that he still struggles with his tendency to be a workaholic. He has always loved his work at General Motors and now as a consultant, and still must struggle with keeping his priorities in balance.
After his dinner speech, RACU students surrounded the podium and talked with him further about his experiences in the business world. As he was leaving the conference room, he thanked RACU’s President, Dr. John Bernbaum, for inviting him to the Business Forum, complimented him on the quality of the students he had met, and noted that the five students he just talked with were “future candidates for [President] Putin’s cabinet.”