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Process, Procedures & Punctuation


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4. April 2014

This is Mary Barra, GM CEO in Washington on Tuesday. April Fool’s Day.

GMBarraHouseTestify12.jpg

(Photo by Mark Finkenstaedt for General Motors)

Ms. Barra is nobody’s fool.

But she certainly is a person who got a job last January that is like that Chinese character that is opportunity/curse.

She began her testimony to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation saying:

“More than a decade ago, GM embarked on a small car program. Sitting here today, I cannot tell you why it took years for a safety defect to be announced in that program, but I can tell you that we will find out.

“When we have answers, we will be fully transparent with you, with our regulators, and with our customers.

“As soon as l learned about the problem, we acted without hesitation. We told the world we had a problem that needed to be fixed. We did so because whatever mistakes were made in the past, we will not shirk from our responsibilities now and in the future. Today’s GM will do the right thing.”

“Today’s GM.”

Ms. Barra joined GM as a co-op student in 1980. Which means that she was there for “Yesterday’s GM,” too.

Last month, Ms. Barra named Jeff Boyer the company’s first-ever vice president, Global Vehicle Safety. His job is to make sure that problems like those associated with the Cobalt and Ion and on and on and on never happen again. Jeff Boyer joined GM as a co-op student in 1974. Which means that he was there for “Yesterday’s GM,” too.

I am confident that Ms. Barra and Mr. Boyer are good people. Well meaning people. People who care about how the corporation that they have dedicated the better part of their lives to is perceived. And how the products they design, develop, engineer, and manufacture perform.

But I am also confident that when people are within an organization for a long time, there is a certain institutional myopia that sets in. There is a certain ingrained notion of “this is how we do things.”

I know that I’ve been with Automotive Design & Production for such a long period of time that all of my real or imagined “free-thinking ability” notwithstanding, if someone were to come in from the outside and say, “What’s wrong with you? Don’t you know that you don’t double space after periods, anymore?” I would probably not take it well. But I wouldn’t know that because that is something that I didn’t pay attention to, as I was trying to write things that are good. (And even though that did happen, know that as I wrote this, I consistently double spaced after each terminal punctuation mark.)

Sometimes to get to “Today’s Anything”—corporation, publication—it takes an outside perspective.

And that is something that I think Ms. Barra needs for “Today’s”—and “Tomorrow’s”—GM.

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