What would you do if . . . ?

The following is one real situation faced by a woman associated with the University of Michigan's business school. It is used as a case study in Prof. LaRue Hosmer's course on business policy. The individual's name has been changed.

In 1976 Evelyn Hollister, an engineer, was assigned to a special team in a Detroit division of a steel company to investigate operating problems with wheel castings for luxury automobiles. The brakes would still stop the car, but the problem was causing skids. At the time, she was also putting her husband through business school at the University of Michigan.

The investigation started by looking at tensile stress, ''the natural place to start,'' Mrs. Hollister writes. She says the general manager was pushing this idea because it was also the easiest to test. But after the research was done, the data showed ''it was fairly obvious the problem was not tensile stress.''

Mrs. Hollister then started to look at compressive stress, a tedious study. But after two weeks, she was told the problem had been solved, and she was shown a report by one of the workers on the team, a close friend of the general manager, saying tensile stress was the cause. The report ''showed data points from our experiments had been changed to fit the curves.'' Further, the report recommended a change that would solve one problem, but ''greatly reduce strength.''

''These are not brakes on school buses,'' Mrs. Hollister writes. ''There's not going to be wholesale slaughter. . . . I need this job for another seven months until (my husband) graduates. . . . It's not easy for women engineers to find good jobs (at that time). I have one, and I don't want to lose it. What should I do?''

Mrs. Hollister went to the head of engineering and told him about the data being falsified. The department head said her colleague would never do that, and he fired her. She has since earned her MBA degree from the University of Michigan and is now a consultant.

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