Call before you recall

Mary Barra wants GM employees to contact her personally when they see a problem

June 5, 2014
June 5, 2014

This morning, General Motors CEO Mary Barra laid out the results of an independent investigation into the company’s deadly ignition switch defect and recall. But her real focus was “a pattern of incompetence and neglect” at GM that allowed a potentially dangerous defect to endure, without making it to managers that could have addressed it.

“The report highlights a company that operated in silos, with a number of individuals seemingly looking for reasons not to act, instead of finding ways to protect our customers,” Barra told her employees in a speech that was publicly broadcast.

One of the most disturbing revelations of the saga has been that employees knew about the issue and didn’t speak up. That culture has to change, Barra said, emphasizing employees’ individual and collective responsibility to act. She said that the company needed to “personalize the challenge”:

“If you are aware of a potential problem affecting safety or quality and you don’t speak up, you’re part of the problem,” Barra said. “And that is not acceptable. If you see a problem you don’t believe is being handled correctly, elevate it to your supervisor. If you still don’t believe it’s being handled correctly, contact me directly.”

The investigators, led by Anton R. Valukas, a former United States attorney, conducted 350 interviews with more than 230 people and reviewed 41 million documents. Barra’s address and press conference are available here, and the company’s official statement here. The report is expected to be released in full by GM’s regulator.

The company, which has acknowledged 13 deaths were the result of the defect, is setting up a compensation fund for those who have lost loved ones or have been seriously injured. It did not release any more details, and the size and scope of the fund will be determined by its independent administrator, attorney Ken Feinberg.

As a result of the investigation, 15 people are no longer with the company, Barra revealed. She said that over half of them were at the executive level, though didn’t give more details. Another five have been disciplined. The report didn’t find evidence of a conspiracy or coverup, she said.

“Some were removed because of what we consider misconduct or incompetence,” Barra said. “Others have been removed because they simply didn’t do enough. They didn’t take responsibility. They didn’t act with a sense of urgency.”

Barra and the other executives did not say whether this was the only such defect; more recalls may be announced. If there were other safety issues that weren’t properly catalogued, the company needs to know about it sooner rather than later. It would have a tough time surviving another error of this magnitude that lies dormant for years.

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