Tag Archives: GM

February 10, 2015 | cwinters | Tagged , , ,

The 5 Things We Can All Learn From a CEO’s First 100 Days

100-days-as-CEOOne of the things I enjoy the most about my job is working with CEOs as they embark on a new leadership journey.  A new CEO gets a blank page, a fresh start – and the opportunity to decide what he or she wants to stand for as a leader, and to impact an entire organization, and sometimes an entire industry.  This is a business situation where the power of communications is clear – to define goals, to build consensus, to bring a little bit of inspiration to the world.

Much is written about a CEO’s first 100 days, and MWW has its own 100 day protocol for embarking on this journey, and creating the leadership trajectory for the executive and the Company.  But what does a CEO’s approach to the first 100 days teach us about individuals and their careers?  What should everyone do on the first day of a new job?  I was intrigued about advice on this topic coming from Mary Barra, who has spent her entire career at GM, and who reminded me (an MWW lifer) that a new job isn’t just starting at a new company – it is starting a new role or even a new project.  You can find Mary Barra’s advice here, as well as a few takeaways from MWW’s experience in working with new leaders:

  1. You’ve already got the job, so it is OK to listen more than you talk in the early days.  We can all learn from our colleagues, and that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have your job.
  2. What you do is more important than what you say – this is a “wait and see” environment.  Your stakeholders will watch and wait – do you walk the talk?
  3. You will inevitably inherit problems.  Be part of the solution.  Responsibility isn’t the same as fault…pick up the baggage and be responsible for making it better.  Talk about the path forward, because you won’t always have all the answers off the bat.
  4. Expect teamwork and collaboration and lead by example.
  5. Be transparent, and be human.   When people know you, it is easier to trust you.

July 21, 2014 | cwinters | Tagged ,

GM CEO Mary Barra Stays the Course of Transparency Showing Action at Congressional Hearing

General Motors CEO Mary Barra Testifies Before Senate Committee About GM's RecallsIn her third appearance before Congress on Thursday, GM CEO Mary Barra held steadfast to her strategy of transparency and action. Her testimony showed accountability and company changes since the first recalls were announced in February, and it was clear she won over the Congressional panel, with Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MS) going so far as to say “some see the record number of recalls at General Motors as a problem. I see it as a good sign.”

Building on my assessment of Barra’s previous Congressional testimony in June, she did two things exceptionally well this time around to further her strategy and demonstrated that she has acted on her convictions.

1. Showed empathy and solutions for the victims

Empathy is a crucial element to restoring a reputation after a major blow. Barra hit this on the head, addressing the victims and the families who’ve lost loved ones at the start of her testimony. She immediately connected with them by offering her “deepest sympathies” and reassuring them that GM will rectify the situation with “compassion, decency, and fairness” through a no-cap compensation fund.

The hiring of outside consultant, Ken Feinberg, is the proof point that demonstrates this compensation will take place the way she publicly outlined.

2. Proved safety is front and center at GM

Barra made it clear—GM’s mission is to do all it can to make sure nothing like this ever happens again. And she reported five major company changes that include the newly-created VP of Global Safety’s direct line to her, greater information sharing among legal staff and other business units, and a Speak Up for Safety program that recognizes employees who report safety issues quickly. These changes have already had a direct impact—a total of 18 recalls on vehicle populations of 1,000 or less have been conducted. Moreover, she made it clear GM employees are behind her and are “all in” to make the company better. It’s evident that a cultural shift is taking place and the “new GM” is starting to take shape.

Being called to testify before Congress is rarely a positive thing for a company’s reputation, and GM certainly has work to do to restore trust in the company and its products.  But Barra gets high marks from me for effectively leveraging her position as a new CEO and agent of change, readily acknowledging fault when appropriate, but also defending people and processes that deserve it, such as her efforts to restore confidence in GM’s general counsel Michael Millikin, who has been cast as a “bad actor” in this scene, publicly calling him “a man of integrity” and the “person she needs on her team” in the face of brutal calls for his job by Congress.

Barra gets a thumbs up for now, but the more important issue to watch will be whether or not this ultimately damages GM as a brand and consumers start to vote with their wallets.

June 19, 2014 | cwinters | Tagged , ,

GM’s CEO Mary Barra Smartly Sticks with Strategy of Transparency in Congressional Hearing

GM CEO Mary Barra’s testimony to Congress Wednesday was a demonstration of true integrity. Too often, we find leaders giving empty apologies. But Barra offers a new way forward for leaders who find their institutions (in this case, and in others, themselves) under the microscope, and learn the raw, honest truth – they are deeply flawed. Barra’s strategy of transparency around the mistakes made by previous leaders is admirable, and her continued self-criticism and forward-looking, specific recommendation for change are critical in order to rally support around the “new GM” she is trying to create. Her decision to act on all of the Valukas Report’s recommendations is evidence that she’s not just talking; she’s really making an actionable commitment to turning the company’s reputation, business and culture around.

The Valukas report was indeed, as Barra herself puts it, “extremely thorough, brutally tough and deeply troubling.” However, Barra’s acknowledgement of the realities of the report and moreover, her suggestions to proactively address the issues raised shows that she is not afraid to rise to the occasion – her communication externally, if matched internally with a “we rise and fall together” mantra will serve her well.

The verdict is still out on how Barra’s communication strategy will pan out, and will rely on how well Barra acts on her convictions and ensures this doesn’t happen again.

Here’s what media and consumers have to say so far.

April 3, 2014 | cwinters | Tagged ,

Reputation Bracketology: General Motors vs. Bank of America

General Motors: A few months ago, GM seemed to be leading the charmed life. The “new GM” had put the bailout behind the company, and exuberance for its new CEO Mary Barra abounded. And then came the recall. Some experts say that Toyota’s settlement is a precursor for what may come for GM, which could change its game. But for right now, GM gets high marks for an effective, transparent response. Prior to the recall, Barra highlighted reducing bureaucracy as one of her priorities, and a culture of accountability will serve the company well during times of trouble. As a new CEO, she has the ability to be the person who solved the problem, without necessarily carrying the baggage of creating the problem.

Bank of America: Thomas Jefferson had a bank account at Bank of America. They are, after all, Bank of America. Just a few short years ago Bank of America was touting its “higher standards,” was growing rapidly and seemed certain of an entrenched position among America’s leading companies. Until the company wasn’t.

Today, it seems the company has a lot of work to do if it wants to be seen as more than just a profit monger. Clearly, tone deaf is a trait that is pervasive in financials services, as evidenced by Bank of America’s decision to increase ATM fees in the midst of a reputational firestorm. This is one case where use of the CEO seems ill-advised, as he seems to make things worse, not better. Bank of America has the lowest customer satisfaction of its peers, and although profitable, its financial performance is showing signs of vulnerability and volatility.

Winner: GM, because it is rising to the occasion far better than Bank of America. Of course, should the investigation reveal that corporate bureaucracy or greed caused a “hush up” – the outcome may be very different in future rounds.

Up Next: The first match up of the Reputation Bracketology Final Four.

Here’s our updated bracket:


mary barra

April 2, 2014 | lmahler | Tagged ,

Grading Mary Barra – How the New General Motors CEO Performed before Congress

Anyone who follows the political comings and goings of Capitol Hill knows that congressional hearings around hot-button issues are often tense, difficult moments for those called to testify. Such events attract widespread media scrutiny and can be a make-or-break moment for corporate leaders. It’s not just the corporation’s reputation on the line; it’s the CEO’s personal brand at stake.

We’re seeing this dynamic play out this week in the case of General Motors (GM), which has recalled 2.6 million vehicles over safety issues that led to a documented 13 deaths. Recently uncovered documents indicate that GM employees knew of the defects years ago and chose not to fix them, citing cost concerns.

It is against this backdrop that new GM CEO Mary Barra appeared before Congress this week. Here, we take a look at the strongest and weakest parts of her performance:

Issuing an Apology: A+

When your company has done harm to its customers, the first step is to issue an apology – preferably before you’re asked for one. In this case, Barra started her testimony with a heartfelt “I am deeply sorry.” This acknowledges to your stakeholders that you are aware of your organization’s shortcomings.

Showing Compassion to Those Impacted: B+

Despite being cleared of legal liabilities for accidents that occurred prior to the 2009 bankruptcy deal, Barra said “We do understand we have civic responsibilities as well as legal responsibilities,” and announced the hiring of Kenneth Feinberg, a well-respected expert with extensive experience in victims’ compensation issues. Barra wouldn’t commit, however, to providing compensation, citing Feinberg’s 30-60 day window for evaluating the situation. We understand that she has a legal obligation to protect shareholders and employees, so it may very well be impossible for anyone in this situation to earn an A.

Announcing Plan to Prevent a Repeat: A

As the story unfolds, it is becoming clearer that cost concerns were at the heart of GM’s decision to ignore faulty ignition switches for nearly a decade. To move past this image, Barra repeatedly emphasized that the new GM had moved from a cost-focused company to a consumer-focused company. She also announced the hiring of former U.S. attorney Tony Valukas to conduct a full-access investigation into what went wrong, who was responsible and whether internal policy changes are needed to prevent this from happening again.

Providing Information: C

It may just be a simple matter of timing, but beyond announcements about internal investigations and potential assistance to victims, Barra didn’t bring a lot of new information to the table. Committee members demanded specificity, and by repeatedly deferring such specifics through reference of ongoing investigations, she only seemed to stoke their frustration.

Overall Grade: A-

In her first two appearances before Congressional panels, GM CEO Mary Barra performed admirably. Her even-keeled manner came across as professional and dependable, and she proactively spoke to the steps GM has taken to resolve the issue. Particularly for a new CEO, she exuded a command of mistakes that may not have occurred on her watch, but for which she accepted full responsibility.

December 29, 2011 | cwinters | Tagged , , , , , , ,

2011’s Reputation Winners

Reputation building requires relevance – sometimes that relevance comes from an event in the news, and sometimes it is created and crafted by the choices, statements and actions of individuals. History is filled with examples of reputations ruined in a single action or in a brief news cycle, and 2011 was no different. (Watch for that blog soon).

But winning the reputation battle…that is another story altogether. Here’s my list of reputation winners of 2011 – who would you add?

  • NYC as a tech hub – the success of FourSquare, Twitter’s NY office and Facebook’s plan to come to NY in 2012 have put NYC back on the map as a legitimate technology center.
  • Tablet Computing – sure, Apple still dominates the category – but the holiday success and popularity of the Kindle Fire and Samsung’s Galaxy Tab have taken Tablets from a product (the iPad) to a category.
  • Populism and mass protest – three letters – OWS. But this wasn’t the only movement that captured attention this year – think about the protests over Russia’s elections, the Arab Spring or even India’s anti-corruption movement.
  • The British Monarchy – there is nothing like a royal wedding to make an out of date institution like the monarchy relevant again. Will and Kate have captured the hearts of the public in a way we haven’t seen since Princess Diana.
  • Social Media – no longer the wild, wild, west – social media’s acceptance in the mainstream world and in the board room makes it a big winner of 2011.
  • NCAA Basketball – scandals in college football and an NBA lockout made college basketball the darling of winter sports – where the love of the game rules the day.
  • Steve Jobs – The untimely passing of Steve Jobs, and the insight into the long range plans he left behind for Apple has taken an iconic leader of our time and made him even larger and more iconic than when we was living.
  • Google’s Sergy Brin – taking back the reigns of Google and tackling tough issues like China while restoring Google’s focus on the ideas that work is helping Google get its mojo back. Let’s watch Google+ in 2012.
  • GM, Ford and the American Automotive industry – Once the industry America loved to hate, complete with CEOs taking private jets to Washington to ask for a bailout, the American Automotive industry is on the rise, fueled by bold leadership by CEOs like Dan Akerson, who dares to say out loud what many just think, or Alan Mulalley, who arguably led the industry’s reputation turnaround.
  • Lady Gaga – once known simply for her eccentricity (meat dress, anyone?), Lady Gaga has emerged as a leading equality advocate – for LGBT issues and for anti-bullying in general.

September 15, 2011 | cwinters | Tagged , , ,

CEO at the Negotiating Table: Sending a Message? Or Painting Yourself into a Corner?

To use your CEO, or not use your CEO? A much debated topic in the crisis communications circles. But an equally valid question when it comes to other high stakes situations, such as the contract negotiations between the UAW and GM, where GM’s CEO has been actively participating in the negotiations.

It’s not typical for the CEO to sit at the bargaining table, until the deal is pretty much done – when the leaders of both sides can come together for a nice photo opp and a few quotes about working together. But then again, what has been typical about GM, or the automotive industry lately?

The automotive makers have struggled with remaining competitive; with the labor cost structure cited as a major driver of Detroit’s decline….and ultimate government bailout. This is a mistake that the automakers can’t afford to repeat.

As a general rule of thumb, it’s always smart to have an escalation plan. An opportunity to bring in a bigger gun if communication, or in this case, negotiations, start to go south. Once you’ve engaged your CEO – you can’t “downgrade” to another executive. On the flip side, leading with your CEO sends a strong message that the situation is serious, and that all resources are being deployed to resolve this issue.

In the case of GM, this contract (the first that’s been negotiated since the bailout agreements) is the pace car for the rest of the industry for the foreseeable future. If that isn’t important enough to warrant CEO attention, what is?

May 5, 2011 | cwinters | Tagged , , , ,

Can being too successful be bad for your reputation?

It’s earnings season, and despite the daily headlines about the recessionary economy, the earnings reports haven’t been all bad. Today, GM reported that it tripled its profits from last year. Whole Foods reported its best quarter in five years. Goldman Sachs disappointed the street with quarterly earnings of $2.74 billion. MasterCard profits are on the rise. Big oil, same story.

Healthcare, energy, banking and financial services are trending well – something that their investors expect, and appreciate. But how successful is too successful? Particularly when gas and milk are both costing nearly $4 a gallon? When millions of Americans are uninsured or can’t afford their prescriptions because they’ve lost their jobs and can’t afford private healthcare? Do companies run the risk of reputational backlash when their success is perceived as being “on the backs” of their employees, their customers or their communities?

This is a tricky equation. A growing profitable business creates and preserves jobs, provides much needed tax revenue to our communities and fuels growth of our stock markets and our economy. I think the answer to this question is “it depends.” When necessities like food, gas, healthcare and heating your home are viewed as “unaffordable” for many Americans, record earnings growth, big bonuses and other symbols of so-called “corporate greed” can create real reputational challenges. This is where the communications becomes very important…the difference between applause and reputational backlash is all about context. What will the Company do with those record profits? Who will benefit (in addition to the shareholders and leaders of the company)? What new employee programs can be funded? How many people will be hired? What investments will you make in the future?

This is why investor relations and financial communications professionals can no longer just think about their messaging and narrative exclusively through the lenses of Wall Street’s response – management’s commentary and company news spreads through the twitter-verse in minutes. Your financial performance is relevant to consumers, communities, regulators and elected officials. And it is reflected in both your valuation and your reputation.

August 13, 2010 | cwinters | Tagged , , , , ,

Living up to a reputation….by saying something unexpected!

And now, for a break from our usual commentary about CEO resignations….

They say that things happen in three’s – and the resignation of GM’s CEO makes the third this week – HP, Sara Lee and now GM. And in the words of Forest Gump, that’s all I am going to say about that – because I feel like I’ve written enough about the role of CEO’s in building trust this week.

Instead, I thought I’d share this really interesting item on the MSNBC video “Top Tens.”

• 4 out of our last 5 President’s have this in common…
• It is what ties Bill Gates to Michaelangelo; Oprah Winfrey to Fidel Castro….
• It is more likely to happen if your mother is over 40 when you are born…
• And more likely to come with an IQ of 140 or higher…
• And it only occurs in 10% of the population.

Left handedness.

According to this piece, lefties are also more likely to use counterintuitive solutions to problems – making them trailblazers, leaders and game changers.

I’ve also heard that lefties were often twins at conception – which means I would have two of my 10-year son, Jack…..which is too mind boggling to even consider.

They say that people in PR make great dinner party guests because they are always full of interesting or unusual factoids. And they have something to say about just about everything.

Call me the queen of useless information…but I think I just lived up to that reputation.