Tag Archives: GM

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: Target vs. JPMorgan Chase.

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.

March 28, 2014 | cwinters | Tagged , , , , , , ,

MWW Reputation Bracketology: Scorecard of Corporate Reputation Madness

It’s that time of year again where March Madness has replaced Mad Men as the big topic at the office coffee machine.  Analysis of bench depth, strength of schedule, and of course…the bracket-busting upsets.  Imagine if we could apply the same kind of bracketology to the notion of corporate reputation.  After all, companies are fighting for relevance – in both mind share and market share – every day. MWW’s Reputation Bracketology will look at companies who have been tackling the most severe challenges to their reputation.

Currently, industries like retail, hospitality and entertainment, automotive, and financial services are facing the highest level of risk among those with reputation failures over the past year. We’ll consider a variety of factors that put a company’s reputation at risk – which should all be top of mind for the CEO and the C-suite team.  Our scorecard will look at the extent that the public’s perception influenced their decisions and actions. By how much did the company lose its key stakeholders’ trust, and how did that manifest in negative ramifications for the company? This manifestation of a lack of trust could be a plummeting stock price, a loss of market share, a disengaged consumer who is not buying anymore, negative forecasts from analysts, or even worse…negative comments from the company or its employees.

Who is on the bubble? Who is a bracket buster? Which No. 1 seed will fall?

Here’s a preview of our featured companies from four categories: retail, hospitality/entertainment, automotive, and financial services.


Target: From hero to zero with one massive data breach?  Or will the icon of affordable style be able to bounce back?

JCPenney: It’s hard not to root for JCPenney, the perennial underdog; and average teams win big with great coaching.  Will retail veteran Mike Ullman once again help JCP find a winning lineup, or will the beleaguered department store run out of steam in the final minutes?

Hospitality and Entertainment

SeaWorld: Conventional wisdom says that defense wins championships. It is hard to imagine anyone who has needed to play more defense than SeaWorld in the wake of Blackfish.  But SeaWorld plays a unique form of defense – known as denial – insisting that declining theme park visits is a coincidence.

Carnival Cruise Lines and the Cruise Industry: Like a team that takes a beating then comes right back to play, Carnival Cruise Lines has been grappling with a rapid fire of issues that come at them like a team where everyone can shoot 3-pointers.


General Motors: If Mary Barra is the new coach everyone couldn’t wait to see in action, she is getting a quick trip to reputation’s big dance via a recall that some say should have happened 10 years ago.  Will her honeymoon period be short like PJ Carlesimo when he made it to the NBA – often hired, and often replaced?

Toyota: The Japanese auto-maker’s recalls dujour haven’t won them any favors with regulators or legislators; and it’s hard to go the distance without a fan base.

Financial Services

Bank of America: Like a recurring favorite beleagued by a series of scandals from recruiting, to performance altering drugs to grade inflation, Bank of America may find itself effectively sidelined from the Big Dance, or the team the fans love to hate.  Do you have to be liked to win?

JPMorgan Chase: What happens when you merge archrivals like Duke and UNC?  The “haters” of both teams join together.  What should have created a super-team has created an organization that is wildly inconsistent.   But Jamie Dimon just won’t quit – could 2014 be the year they peak at the right time?

This blog will be a series tied to the March Madness games, so check back on Monday for the kick off matchup.

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.