For two days this week, General Motors Chief Executive Mary Barra withstood a barrage of Congressional questioning over GM’s recall crisis. Maintaining a steady tone, and rarely showing emotion, Barra apologized, repeatedly insisted that there is a “new GM” and promised a full investigation.
But as she sat for hours at House and Senate witness tables, a question circulated on comment boards and in conversations: was Barra being thrown under the bus by GM?
It’s easy to see why people are asking that, including a caller to NPR’s On Point program on Wednesday. Barra, the first woman to serve as the CEO of Detroit company, was named chief executive effective January 15, meaning she has less than three months on the job. While she was among several candidates for the top position, her appointment came as somewhat of a surprise, both for its timing and for her gender.
Even though Barra was considered to be the most likely candidate to succeed Dan Akerson, few people in Detroit expected that it would come so early in 2014. And, despite his mentorship, it was never a fait accompli that she would get the position. White male dominance of the car companies is still alive and well, with just 14 women serving as senior officers across GM, Ford and Chrysler at the time of her appointment in October.
Now, of course, there is plenty of speculation that Barra was set up as some kind of an executive sacrificial lamb. According to this line of thinking, Akerson could see what was coming and ducked out of the way, using Barra as a shield without her knowledge of what was about to occur.
According to the documents and other information revealed thus far, there seems to be no justification for that theory. For one thing, GM has been public about the fact that the reason for Akerson’s departure was his wife’s illness. She was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer, although she had never smoked, and is undergoing treatment. James Cain, a GM spokesman, called such speculation “remarkably insensitive to Dan.”
On Tuesday, Barra said that to the best of her knowledge, Akerson was not aware of the situation that has led GM to recall 2.6 million vehicles, and announce a $750 million first quarter charge.
She told a House committee that she first heard there was a problem with the Chevrolet Cobalt in December, while GM’s senior management was apprised of the full matter on Jan. 31, when the company announced its initial recall of Chevrolet, Saturn and Pontiac vehicles.
SOURCE: Micheline Maynard