Do you remember Raymond DeGiorgio? He was the General Motors engineer who was directly involved with the faulty ignition switches, and ultimately the whipping boy for the ignition switch recall having since been fired from the company, along with several others for covering up the event. But we haven’t heard about him for quite some time. Now, a few months later, The New York Times has a profile on him that suggests DeGiorgio was one of many loyal mid-level engineers who simply did what he was supposed to do, indicting GM’s corporate culture more than any individual.
When DeGiorgio’s name popped up on the radar, he was fired from GM and went into seclusion. When questioned by lawyers and government investigators, he pleaded ignorance, saying he didn’t remember the events that led up to the redesign of the switch. “All I can say is that I did my job,” he said. “I didn’t lie, cheat or steal. I did my job the best I could.”
But DeGiorgio also was the man who approved the defective switch. The NYT says documents show Mr. DeGiorgio “had considerable authority and operated without significant supervision or oversight.” When shown that the switch was problematic, DeGiorgio tried to implement a new switch but was rejected by a product committee. Frustrated, DeGiorgio nonetheless instructed Delphi to replace the switch with a stronger version that he had initially bypassed five years earlier, but he did something that would be problematic in GM’s effort to understand why older Cobalts had higher switch failure rates than those built after 2006: a failure to issue a new part number.
“DeGiorgio was part of what we called the ‘frozen middle’ at GM, just another tiny cog in a massive machine,” said a former GM executive. “You stay in your box and you do your job. And you don’t let anyone else into your box.”
DeGiorgio compounded his mistake when he told GM product investigators both in 2009 and 2012 that he had never changed the Cobalt ignition, according to documents. In his deposition in April of last year, DeGiorgio did not recall replacing the faulty switch in 2006, stating “I don’t recall ever authorizing a change.” However, physical evidence presented by lawyer Lance Cooper that showed newer Cobalts equipped with a stronger switch could not be denied.
Meanwhile, former federal prosecutor Anton Valukas had characterized DeGiorgio’s errors as having “serious consequences” that contributed to at least 30 deaths. “It’s very emotional,” DeGiorgio responded. “I’m getting very emotional about it right now.”
Lawyers pursuing wrongful-death cases against GM are looking closely at DeGiorgio as well as other GM officials who worked with him. “DeGiorgio was able to both successfully thrive and hide in the weeds of GM’s corporate carelessness,” said Robert Hilliard, who is representing “hundreds of accident victims and their families.”