Monday, July 28, 2014

Ex-GM CEO Akerson Testifies to Detroit Free Press

Former GM CEO Daniel Akerson, currently with longtime employer The Carlyle Group, finally spoke on GM's ignition switch debacle.  However it was not under oath to a Congressional committee.  Here's what he said:

Had he testified before Congress on the ignition switch recalls, he would have said: “I’ve been here 3½ years. I’ve had a raft of problems every year, and we addressed them straight up and don’t blink and we try to solve them.”

That's not answering his knowledge of the problem under a legal oath.

Akerson said because he was a relative newcomer at GM, he may have gotten fairer treatment from Congress if he still had been CEO when the ignition switch crisis came to light.

“I think it would have been easier for me to defend the company, because quite frankly I thought Mary got treated a bit unfairly by virtue of, ‘You’ve been with the company 30 years. Why didn’t you change things?’ ” Akerson said.

“I could have said, ‘Hey, look, we had to change 30 things. This one dates back to eight, 10 years ago.’ It’s a little unfair, but life isn’t fair, and you own the problem.”

Akerson's tenure is roughly half of eight years and one third of ten years.  It's not credible that an engaged CEO would be ignorant of such a critical issue, especially if he modeled problem solving by facing issues straight up without blinking or blaming the messenger. 

Carlyle went to great lengths to protect their good reputation in the cases of LifeCare and SemGroup.  I imagine word got around an Akerson led GM not to bring the boss bad news.  Fear and other extrinsic motivators cause huge quality problems.  

The automaker’s recent ignition switch recall crisis shows that problems with GM’s corporate culture were far more serious than executives realized.

Akerson's abdicating his role in shaping corporate culture fits with his CEO ilk. 

“Managers are the day-to-day interface with employees and the carriers of culture.  Unless they are effectively and properly trained, organizations will struggle to meet their top training objective of building an ethical culture.”

It's easier to blame complacent employees for abject leadership failures.  "The buck stops here" is long gone in our PEU world.