Final Inspection

GM Puts All Its Chips on Newly Minted CEO

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Barra will need to convince the car-buying public the recall scandal is a relic of the old GM if public confidence is to be restored and market share retained.

Talk about risk-reward.

General Motors CEO Mary Barra said yesterday she likely will testify before Congress in planned hearings concerning the automaker’s recall mess involving defective ignition switches in vehicles dating back to 2001.

The move to put Barra front and center is a highly calculated one by GM’s PR and management teams, which are betting the newly minted chief executive, just weeks into the job, will be able to withstand congressional grandstanding and charm a watching America.

Barra will be tasked with keeping cool under pressure and quick with answers, no matter how arcane, political or irrelevant the question.

Most importantly, she will need to convince Congress and the car-buying public the recall scandal is a relic of the old GM and that the new GM is ready to do whatever it takes to correct the problem, support victims of the defect-related crashes and ensure something like this never happens again.

The risk is that Barra will come off looking more like former GM CEO Rick Wagoner, who was bloodied and bowed in congressional testimony during the financial bailout hearings of 2008-2009. Or that in becoming the face of the scandal she will forever be linked to the controversial and costly recall campaign. Think former Ford CEO Jac Nasser and the automaker’s $2 billion-plus Firestone-tire debacle.

It would be a safer play to volunteer another executive lower down the chain of command to become the point man in all this. If things go badly, GM always could hide that person away until the smoke clears. Not so with its CEO.

But Barra appears convinced this is her battle to own. Besides, so far she has played well with the press and industry insiders, and she probably is the best bet to guide the automaker through what may turn out to be a watershed moment that could determine its future.

She’ll need to give an award-winning performance if public perception of GM, already weakened by its past performance and government financial rescue, is to be buoyed and market share retained.

It’s a big PR roll of the dice. If Barra pulls it off, it could be the defining moment of her career and solidify her position atop GM just weeks into her tenure as top executive.

On the other hand, GM’s shiny new CEO could leave the congressional hearing with more than a few bumps and scrapes.

That would be no way to begin a new administration, and it’s something GM management no doubt would rather not think about.

dzoia@wardsauto.com

Discuss this Blog Entry 1

on Mar 24, 2014

Geez, just one more item GM tried to push under the scandal carpet, trouble is the lump in the carpet is now far to big to go unnoticed! Is the sacrificial lamb Ms. Barra, in the heat of a congressional investigation, going to get fried under pressure and reveal the other content of the very visible lump? My guess, the minds put in a relative rookie with a big title for public perception and why not, who else to plead innocence when all the tough question come into play. Some may say this is an attack on big business! Oh what shame on the character of ANY business if we allow this to be so, construed rather as an in invite to all to continue to sacrifice life and liberty via an increasing number of deaths all for the glory of greed! Will the conclusion be after the shit hits the fan, a Ms. Barra and GM looking spic and span? Enough! If big business can't recognize a public morality, an example of which has long faded, are any of us safe? GM must be severely punished, for no other reason than to reset the moral standard. Oh the poor joe, you and me, will we ever be the winner?
Cheers!
PS.

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WardsAuto editors share insights and observations on the global auto industry.

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Dave Zoia

As Editorial Director, I oversee much of what goes into WardsAuto.com, enjoying a ringside seat that lets me observe up close just about every facet of the industry worldwide. I have covered the...

James M. Amend

James Amend is an associate editor at WardsAuto.com, covering day-to-day business and product news at General Motors. He also leads coverage of regulatory and environmental issues, as well as the...
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