Steven Rattner says he witnessed General Motors’ troubled internal culture firsthand while serving as the lead advisor to the presidential task force that oversaw the bailout of the automotive industry in 2009.
Rattner, who revealed his findings in a recent op-ed in The New York Times, said he saw the ‘GM Nod’ and ‘GM Salute’ while working alongside the automaker. The ‘GM Nod’ refers to an issue detailed in Anton Valukas’ investigative report in which executives or employees of the company would acknowledge a problem but wouldn’t act or take blame for the matter.
In his piece, Rattner compares GM’s flawed management culture to that of crosstown rival Ford. He said GM maintained its problems “were all the fault of external forces: its unions, oil prices, the credit crisis and competition from Japanese imports,” but Ford, faced with the same problems, managed to avoid bankruptcy, evidence of GM’s poor management.
“Looking under the hood of GM was the most stunningly disappointing dissection of a paid-up member of corporate America in my 30-year Wall Street career,” Rattner wrote.
Safety and crash victim advocates are now wondering why Rattner didn’t act when he noticed a clear problem with the company. He believes the GM management did not know of the ignition switch problem in certain small cars which has now been linked to 13 deaths, and noted “none of us on the auto task force had the slightest inkling.”
Former head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Joan Claybrook, told Automotive News that Rattner’s account of the issue is unclear presents a cloudy picture of the problem.
“[Rattner] sounds like a lawyer trying to have it both ways … they knew all this, but they didn’t know all this,” Claybrook said.
She also noted Rattner was involved with the decision to relieve post-bankruptcy GM of its responsibility for incidents that occurred prior to its reorganization.
“I don’t know why he didn’t raise the issue a long time ago,” Claybrook told AN. “…By taking away the company’s liability, he’s encouraging them to have a wink, a nod and a salute.”