As “Switchgate” continues, we are continually bombarded with the “Old GM” and “New GM.” That’s more of a legal definition than anything else, but what has changed within the organization?
That’s the question Senator Barbara Boxer (D-California) posed during the Senate’s grilling session with CEO Mary Barra. “I am very disappointed, really as a woman to woman, because the culture you’re representing here today is the culture of the status quo,” said Boxer, who was referring to the years it took General Motors to address an ignition switch flay that is linked to 13 deaths.
Elaine Eisenman, dean of executive and enterprise education at Babson College in Wellesley, MA, told Bloomberg, “It’s kind of hard to have grown up in a company and suddenly say, ‘Now that I’m in charge, I’m going to change things.’ There’s some credibility challenges she has to overcome.”
Barra has been at GM since 1982, so many can take that as she’s been raised in the culture that has permitted this debacle to happen. Yet moves such as the hiring of consultants like Jeff Eller, the crisis expert who helped Bill Clinton with his issues while President over 20 years ago, suggests Barra may be up to the challenge.
We know that General Motors builds (mostly) world-class vehicles, but the change needed is institutional. As recently as three years ago, GM engineers and regulators discussed the ignition switch, but nothing happened. Says Joel Koblentz of the executive recruiting firm Koblentz Group, “She’s going to have to stand tall for values and accountability that perhaps have been lost at GM over the years. She has to clearly restate it and live those values. She can’t waver from it.” Koblentz continues, “In terms of people who have had to make these kinds of adjustments, there are very few, and it’s tough to do if you’ve been an insider for a long time.”