Editorial

Barra has a new mantra for GM: The word ‘responsibility’ is given action

June 6, 2014
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The General Motors CEO in years past may have held a press conference to apologize for safety issues and order recalls, and perhaps pledge vague improvements and oversight, but what the world saw late last week was the new sheriff who directly addressed the Detroit corps and painfully specified several in a long list of shameful findings by U.S. Attorney Anton Valukas. Mary Barra looked the heart of GM and its board of directors in eye and admitted guilt, specified changes and immediacy. More than 15 people have been fired. She announced a fund would be established for victims of Cobalt safety issues that caused 13 deaths and injury for 11 years, and one could add, despite the fact that it may subject the company to further claims. Barra keyed in on one word repeatedly: responsibility. She invoked it as GM’s mantra.

What the world saw was a woman of courage and conviction despite her fewer than five months in the post. She told employees called to the Global Town Hall meeting, “When I started at GM I certainly never expected to be CEO. And I certainly didn’t expect to be in a situation like this. But I’m here and you are here, and we have to be committed to lead in a way that brings honor and respect to this company.”

Perhaps she succeeded in establishing a new perception of integrity for GM. It might also be the model for CEO integrity. It might also be the model for government leaders who shroud action in bureaucracy and secrecy. Had, for instance, Hillary Clinton taken such an approach to the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, Americans would know exactly what action was taken as a result of such tragedy.

The ordeal for General Motors is not finished and public and federal action is far from over, but Barra’s demonstrated leadership would suggest the company will continue to be transparent. Barra is now the change agent of one of the world’s public companies most entrenched in bureaucracy. She has given the word “responsibility” action and imposed it on each employee.

 “…But this isn’t about our feelings or our egos. This is about our responsibility to act with integrity, honor and a commitment to excellence.”

Perhaps that quote from Barra’s speech to employees should be incorporated into every company’s mission.

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