Mary Barra's Pearl Harbor Moment: "I Never Want You To Forget" How GM Failed Customers

Jun 5 2014, 10:46am CDT | by

General Motors Chief Executive Mary Barra issued a strong rebuke to employees Thursday morning, saying an independent investigation found “a pattern of incompetence and neglect” in the company’s handling of a faulty ignition switch that led to the deaths of at least 13 people.

“Our job is clear: To build high quality, safe vehicles,” Barra told them at a town hall-style meeting beamed worldwide across the company. “In this case with these vehicles, we didn’t do our job. We failed these customers. We must face up to it and learn from it. ”

Barra, chief executive since January, has led many town hall meetings during her career, but none could match the drama of Thursday’s gathering, where she shared findings of the three-month probe by former U.S. Attorney Anton Valukas. Barra called the report “
extremely thorough, brutally tough and deeply troubling” and said “it is enormously painful to have our shortcomings laid out so vividly.”/>

But Barra told 1,200 assembled at GM’s Vehicle Engineering Center, and 220,000 employees worldwide, that they needed to hear how badly GM screwed up. “Tn fact, I never want you to forget it. This is not just another business crisis for GM. We aren’t simply going to fix this and move on.”  GM is already fixing its safety processes and the company will compensate families of those whose loved ones died or were injured, she promised. “But I never want to put this behind us. I want to keep this painful experience permanently in our collective memories. I don’t want to forget what happened because I — and I know you — never want this to happen again.”

As a result of the findings, GM said it fired 15 individuals for misconduct, incompetence or failure to take responsibility. Barra said at least half of them were executive level or higher. Five others were disciplined. Valukas’ report found no culpability on the part of Barra, Product Development Chief Mark Reuss or former Chief Executive Dan Akerson.

The company also announced that it will create a special compensation fund administered by attorney Kenneth Feinberg, who oversaw claims for victims of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. The size of the fund, and who will ultimately be eligible, will be decided by Feinberg, said GM President Dan Amman, who is working closely with Feinberg. So far, GM has said there are 13 deaths tied to the ignition switch issue. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has said the number is likely to rise. While sticking with the figure 13 for now, GM said “ We’ll make public the number of fatalities and serious physical injuries as ultimately determined by Mr. Feinberg.”

The upshot of Valukas’ report is that GM engineers didn’t see the ignition switch failure as a safety issue, and failed to connect it to seemingly unrelated problems with airbags that didn’t deploy in front-end crashes.

GM did not release the report, but said NHTSA would post it on its website. More details to come when the report is made public.

, Barra said the company had fired 15 individuals for incompetence or silence, and disciplined five others for not doing enough during the 11 years that GM was investigating a

 
 

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