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General Motors’ Culture a Focus of House Investigation

Tina Robinson2 years ago

General Motors CEO Mary Barra, along with attorney Anton Valukas, appeared before a House subcommittee to testify in a second round of hearings investigating the GM ignition recall announced by the automaker in February and March. A major focus of the questioning was whether or not the underlying culture at GM that allowed a major defect to go unrecalled for more than a decade has changed.

The “GM Nod” and “GM Salute”

Representatives armed with the results of an internal investigation into how and why it took GM over a decade to recall vehicles with defective ignition switches pressed Barra about the underlying culture at GM. The so-called Valukas report highlighted two cultural phenomena at GM referred to as the “GM nod” and the “GM salute”: moments where employees collectively recognized something should be done but failed to take any personal responsibility for follow through.

When Valukas was questioned about the GM culture he pointed to various issues within the company including a refusal to review previously made decisions, “silos” of information, and the discouragement of wording that might seem alarming. Valukas told Representatives that over the years, once a decision or determination was made, employees never reviewed the criteria for that decision. He also pointed out that various divisions within the company had key information that was never shared with other departments. Finally, he noted how problematic it was that certain wording such as “stalls” was discouraged because it might alarm customers. 

Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) wanted to know specifics on how Barra plans to change that pervasive attitude. Barra spoke of newly founded programs such as a Speak Up For Safety Program and the appointment of a VP of Global Product Safety as the foundations for change. However, Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) questioned how effective cultural changes can be when only 15 out of more than 200,000 employees are still part of the company. “There’s 200,000 employees or so at GM. You mentioned 15 were fired. That’s 99.999 percent, if my math is right, of the people are the same. If you haven’t changed the people, how do you change the culture?”

GM Compensation Fund

Thomas J. Henry is representing more than 1,000 GM recall victims across the United States and has been investigating injuries and deaths linked to the recall since day one. The firm launched a nationwide media investigation into the recall in April, which brought forth thousands of affected individuals who had information critical to the investigation – information that the firm has handed over to federal agencies also investigating GM’s sluggish response the recall. As more and more individuals have flocked to Thomas J. Henry for representation, the firm has continued to push GM for a victim settlement fund. The firm has had several talks with GM’s victim compensation expert Ken Feinberg regarding appropriate victim compensation for the thousands affected by a fatal design flaw in ignition switches which left numerous dead and countless others seriously injured. 


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