GM CEO’s Apology Is a Great First StepMarch 21, 2014
Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, has faced an uphill battle this week as she’s sought to apologize for her company’s past misdeeds. According to news reports, GM will recall another 1.5 million vehicles, added to the 3.1 million already recalled in the last two months or so, due to faulty ignition switches that allegedly have caused twelve deaths. Worse, news reports suggest that GM has know about the problem since 2001, but failed to alert its customers or the public until now.
This is one of those times when it’s really, really tough to be in charge.
To her credit, Ms. Barra hasn’t pulled her punches. Despite the threat of lawsuits against GM, she publicly admitted that “[s]omething went wrong with our processes in this instance, and terrible things happened.” Ms. Barra deserves kudos for her candor, and so do the company’s attorneys, who didn’t default into the defensive crouch that lawyers normally assume when litigation looms. It took guts for GM’s leader to admit to error, and great instincts on the part of the GM legal team to let her do it.
Will Ms. Barra’s apology be effective? That depends very much on what happens next. It’s appalling that it apparently took GM more than a decade to admit to the problems with its ignition switches, but Ms. Barra became its CEO only this year. If, under her leadership, GM puts better processes and safety controls in place and fairly compensates those who were hurt or killed, the automaker could become the poster child for corporate integrity. This is Ms. Barra’s opportunity to demonstrate how corporations should behave when things go wrong and I, for one, wish her every success in doing so.
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