Michael Millikin has been an employee of General Motors since 1977, after working as a federal narcotics prosecutor. He’s been through the bad and the good (and now, the bad), but his experience since 2009 has been as chief counsel. Now his mettle is being put to the test as he directs GM’s response to at least four federal probes.
As to be expected, people who have worked with Millikin characterize him as a street-smart and intense lawyer and manager who should be able to steer General Motors on course, according to Automotive News. “He’s extremely hands-on. Mike’s management style is, ‘Tell me now. I need to know.’ He has a way of making very intelligent people stammer. You realize that, when you’re talking to him, he’s listening, but he’s also reading for what you’re not saying,” says one former colleague.
Millikin also has high expectations of the behavior of executives. Back more than 20 years ago, when former General Motors purchasing boss J. Ignacio Lopez was accused of stealing planning documents and other trade secrets from GM when he left for Volkswagen in 1993. Millikin urged GM to go after Lopez while suing VW in the process. “Not everyone at GM was in favor of it, but Mike advocated for it. From that point, he remained heavily involved in the nitty-gritty of shaping the case, the discovery and the ultimate negotiation and settlement,” says John Quinn, a lawyer whose firm has worked with Millikin and GM.
He leads a team of about 85 in-house lawyers, mostly in Detroit, plus about 140 more overseas. They often handle more than 100 civil cases at a time, often with help from outside attorneys, according to Automotive News.
General Motors has claimed Millikin learned of the defective ignition switches after January 31, 2014. Wayne State University Law School professor Peter Henning says, “That’s a key question in this case: What did the legal department know, and how high up did it go?” That ultimately may be unknowable. But it’s worth asking.”