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The Culture at G.M. - A Call to Congressional Action

By JIM HALL - New York Times
June 13th, 2014

On Wednesday, General Motors’ chief executive, Mary T. Barra, is to testify before Congress about her company’s ignition switch debacle. This follows release of an internal investigation commissioned by G.M. that resulted in the dismissal of 15 officials but the exoneration of Ms. Barra and most of her senior management team.

It is imperative that Congress use this opportunity to turn its full attention to the executive and board levels of G.M. In my seven years as chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, I saw how corporate safety culture was established from the top down. That is where the responsibility lies.

What kind of corporate culture would develop, or even encourage, an atmosphere that resulted in 15 managers who are either afraid to give leadership bad news or feel that they could blithely ignore such a serious safety problem? And what kind of corporate leadership makes scapegoats of subordinates?

This tragedy is magnified by the fact that G.M. continued to conceal what it knew about the ignition switch, and Americans continued to die, while it was relying on taxpayer subsidies to remain operational.

G.M. should have seen the necessity of keeping its customers informed of the safety defect and taking the lead to rectify the problem. It did neither.

G.M. has spoken, and what it has said is neither satisfying nor candid. It is now time for Congress to examine how a major American corporation could violate the public trust so egregiously. That examination must begin now.

Washington, June 13, 2014

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