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General Motors Co., hoping to improve relationships and trust with its suppliers, has launched an initiative called Supplying Communities Together to bring together teams of GM and supplier employees to work on community projects.

The Detroit automaker had the worst overall rating among six large automakers for supplier relations in a recent Planning Perspectives Inc. annual survey. GM was dinged due to a drop in supplier trust and communication, two things GM executive Grace Lieblein, the company’s vice president for global purchasing and supply chain, said the company is working to improve.

GM is encouraging members of its supply chain and purchasing organizations to contact suppliers and form groups that will commit to a number of volunteer hours, Lieblein said. GM plans this year and into 2015 to work with Habitat for Humanity Detroit. GM teams in other locations could work with Habitat in their area, or with other organizations.

The Detroit automaker has a strict policy with its thousands of suppliers that forbids freebies like lunches or golf outings. As such, “there are not a lot of opportunities outside of the work conference rooms to build those relationships,” Lieblein said.

The Supplying Communities Together initiative could change that. The idea — which stemmed from a recommendation from a member of GM’s supplier council — is for teams inside and outside the company to work elbow-to-elbow on projects and get to know each other better.

“Really, the intent is to ... provide an opportunity to create and improve relationships and frankly, give back to the community, which I know everybody feels good about,” Lieblein said.

On Wednesday, GM met with hundreds of its top suppliers in Detroit. It already has had some groups work on projects, including a team of about 25 GM volunteers and 25 people from suppliers who this week worked with Buckets of Rain, a group that does urban gardening and supplies soup kitchens with fresh food.

“You can’t build the relationship when you need it. You have to have that foundation already there,” Lieblein said. “Because there are going to be issues that we have to work through together, whether it’s problem-solving a quality issue, whether that’s working through cost issues.

GM was disappointed by the Planning Perspectives survey results, but it “redoubled” efforts to improve supplier relationships, Lieblein said.

The automaker last year was criticized by some suppliers for changing their terms and conditions before GM loosened some requirements.

Leiblein said GM spent much time seeking input from its supplier council, a group of about two dozen suppliers that she meets with every two months, plus other suppliers and its own employees on what things with suppliers could be improved.

In August, GM and Lieblein hosted a breakfast for some suppliers and dealers as a kickoff for the Supplying Communities Together initiative in the MorningSide Commons neighborhood. That’s where Habitat Detroit has been working to redevelop and build new homes. Habitat Detroit wants to raise $25 million for its Leaders to Rebuild Detroit campaign; it has raised about $8 million including the cornerstone $1 million gift from former GM CEO Dan Akerson and his wife Karin.

GM at that event announced its foundation was donating another $100,000 to Habitat for Humanity Detroit, bringing its total for the year to $500,000.

Lear Corp. said it will donate $500,000 to Habitat Detroit and pledged up to another $500,000 in matching donations to Habitat if Lear’s seating and electrical distribution competitors opt to participate, Lear President and CEO Matt Simoncini said.

Simoncini, speaking at the August event, said he attended nearby Clark Elementary. “I went to Detroit Public Schools and Lear, like, I feel a devotion to this city,” he said.

Habitat Detroit Executive Director Vincent Tilford said the families it serves are “some of the hardest working people you will ever, ever meet.”

Families that receive Habitat homes have to put in 250 to 350 hours of their own time building homes. They also go through financial literacy courses and receive a zero percent mortgage repaid over 10 to 35 years.

Sylvia Hubbard, a single mother of three, recently got into her Habitat home after losing everything in a house fire early last year.

“When we lost the house ... the only thing that kept us together was the hope that we would have a home. And home means family,” Hubbard told GM’s suppliers and dealers in August, her voice quivering. “Home means security. Home means safety. Home means love. So when we walked through those doors, I knew I had a family.”

mburden@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2319

Twitter.com/MBurden_DN

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