Having witnessed the new CEO of GM, Mary Barra, testify before Congress yesterday regarding GM’s failure to remedy problems they knew about, I am moved by a comment from one of the mothers whose child died behind the wheel of a malfunctioning GM car in 2009. Paraphrasing the mother’s comments, “if they only listened to one or two of us, these other people would not have had to die.” I cannot find a more apt quote to surmise how many feel.
In fairness to Barra, she was not in charge of GM until this year, but she needs to get to the bottom of this and rebuild people’s trust. What we did learn yesterday is GM changed a part in one car model without changing the part number to track if it would be successful, which is unheard of. In other words, they tried to sneak a change in to limit risk. This is malfeasance on top of the decision not to heed warnings and fix something. People did not have to die.
GM’s woes follow closely on Toyota being fined $1.2 Billion for its covering up of accelerator problems. Toyota’s handling of this issue was extremely poor, at best, and it is not over. Several managers may face criminal charges for ignoring the cautions and requests of subordinates to fix the problem. Driving a run away car with an acceleration issue led to deaths and accidents. People did not have to die.
Not to be outdone, Duke Energy, who had a stellar reputation up until the late 1990s until it made some poor acquisitions and accounting issues tainted its image, decided to forego fixing problems with coal ash ponds after being sued last spring by several environmental groups. These coal ash ponds are near waterways, as the coal ash has to be kept wet so the pollutants in the ash don’t blow into the water and people’s lungs. Some of these waterways actually provide drinking water to local communities. Instead, Duke chose to work with a friendlier state agency and governor, who used to be employed by Duke and agreed to settlement of $99,000 (which is a tad shy of Toyota’s fine) and to fix the problem on their time. Now they have had a coal ash spill and some other leaks to contend with. No one has died as of yet, but drinking polluted water is not good for people’s health.
These issues are on the heels of Penn State not addressing a sexual predator scandal in its midst and it becoming more known that the Catholic Church has been covering up for sexual predators among its priests for years. I mention the sex scandals as well, as all of these issues relate to one key theme – leadership caring more about their image than their customers and people who have trusted them.
“If they had only listened to one or two of us, these other people would not have had to die.” If they had listened to the first voices in the sex scandals, others would not have had to be raped by a priest or Jerry Sandusky. If Duke had only heeded the warnings and lawsuits, they could have been ahead of the problems, rather behind them. Leaders need to lead, not protect their hind end or organizational image. Hopefully, Barra can steer GM better toward being more trustworthy. Hopefully, Pope Francis can continue to rebuild the trust in the Catholic Church. Hopefully, Duke can remedy their failure to act. Hopefully, Toyota and Penn State have learned their lessons. You owe this to us. And, it is time we start demanding it.
Note: My friend Barney has an excellent post on GM which can be found with the attached link. http://mountainperspective.wordpress.com/2014/04/02/is-general-motors-good-for-america/comment-page-1/#comment-3513
I keep going back to the Johnson & Johnson of old, and how well they took responsibility and proactively took action on the Tylenol scare. Sales and their esteem in the world rose. Of course the current Johnson et al is not nearly the same company, and is currently hiding damning info about bad heart stents and artificial joints.
Bad news early is always better than bad news late, and being proactive better than reactive. Your examples are all well taken and if companies had been out in front, their costs/fines would have been so much less.
We’ll see if Barra is the head of a new GM, or just more of the same.
Great post and great minds thinking alike…
Thanks Barney. The ball is definitely in her court. I figure if I am on your page, I am in better stead. Have a good one. BTG
More importantly, vice-versa!
Well said. We could use a little more of the old Japanese fall-on-your-own-sword culture. I would not want to sit in Mary Barra’s suit. I hope she moves the company in a better direction.
Agreed. At least she is acting on it. Let’s see how it goes.