Sunday, 8 June 2014

The more things change, the more they seem the same.

The "New`` General Motors is certainly different than the old GM in at least one very important way. New GM apparently has added a new product line.  But they have made only one vehicle.  It is the world`s largest bus; large enough for CEO Mary Barra to throw 15 people under it at one time.

In case you did not hear, GM took over 11 years to acknowledge that a $0.57 ignition switch was a problem and that its failure likely contributed to at least  13 deaths and numerous injuries.  After an exhaustive investigation, Barra announced that a `pattern of incompetence` was uncovered and that she fired 15 people and disciplined 5 others.  Stunningly, over half of those dismissed were at an executive level.

But how innocent is Barra herself?  From February 2008 until June 2009 she was Vice President of Global Manufacturing Engineering and from February 2011 until her promotion to CEO in January 2014, she was Executive Vice President of Global Product Development, Global Purchasing and Supply Chain.  She has a Bachelor of Science degree and an MBA.  Surely Barra was in a position to be aware of and to understand the issue at hand, and the solution.  After all, her staff was responsible for the engineering the products that the design group created.  And her group purchased the product that the supplier no doubt knew, or suspected, was defective.

We are not talking about an insignificant concern; it is not a case that the paint colour chips don't match!  We are talking about an issue that has caused deaths at a rate of at least 1 per year along with hundreds of injuries.  It is simply incredulous to suggest that there was no hint or rumour around the water cooler in the executive suite of a serious problem lurking below the surface.  And it is equally incredulous that Barra and others at the executive level were unaware of these issues.  The fact that half of those she dismissed were executives is confirmation that the concern had filtered up the chain of command.

Barra is now driving the bus and those 15 people that she sacrificed are just numbers to add to the carnage of this faulty ignition switch fiasco.  Make no mistake...simply because she is a woman does not mean that she has not learned well the lessons from her predecessors.  She knows how to dress in Teflon and how to point fingers at the departed.  S--t has not been able to defy gravity and to flow uphill.  In many, many respects the NEW GM is no different from the OLD GM.

In my opinion, the first responsibility of Leadership is that of accountability.  Too bad that Ms. Barra has chosen to hold others accountable while escaping the spot light herself.  This was a pattern of the old GM.  You may recall that in the fall of 2008 when GM was seeking a government bail out, the executive team that headed to Washington to plead their case, chose to take a high cost charter jet rather than fly in economy with the rest of us. They so detached from reality that they could justify their actions to themselves if not to shareholders.

GM made history in the appointment of Barra.  Unfortunately, the more things change...the more they stay the same.

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