GM's Burns Gets Shanghaied - or, Almost Doesn't

April 21, 2007
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What if you gave a news conference and nobody came? Worse, what would happen if the guy who’s supposed to be the star of the show can’t get in?

That nearly happened to Larry Burns, it seems. General Motors’ technology czar was planning to play host as the automaker unveiled a fuel-cell-powered Chevrolet Volt. (A plug-in hybrid version was the star of the Detroit auto show, last January.) But Burns trip to China was clearly star-crossed.

On the first leg of his flight, his Northwest Airlines 747 had to make an emergency landing in Alaska, when a passenger assaulted a flight attendant. Then, when Burns went to connect, at Tokyo’s Narita Airport, he was barred at the gate. Turns out he forgot to get a Chinese visa. Whether for security reasons, or simply the cash those visas generate, the Chinese are quite picky about such things.

With barely a day to go, Burns started to panic – it normally takes up to two weeks to get a new visa from the bureaucratic Chinese. Then the executive remembered, “It’s good to work for General Motors.” Ah, yes. A couple calls and a visit to the Chinese embassy, in Tokyo, and two hours later, Burns was official and on his way. The trip back to Narita took longer than the stop at the embassy. Too bad GM can’t do anything about traffic.


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