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GM CEO Mary T. Barra Releases Report Indicting Company Culture

General Motors CEO Mary T. Barra spoke to 1,000 company employees last week about the "deeply troubling" report that found the company had hidden an ignition switch defect in millions of cars, causing at least 13 deaths and 54 accidents. Industry and safety experts expect the final numbers to be much higher. 'New GM'

In defending the company's reputation, Barra and her communications team have positioned the new CEO as leader of the "new" GM versus the "old" GM responsible for hiding and ignoring the defects for more than a decade.

Positioning the old versus new GM is an interesting strategy, complicated or necessitated by the fact that Barra is a 30-year employee of the company. As she spoke to employees about the report, Barra was open and personal in her reactions.

'Saddened and disturbed'

"For those of us who have dedicated our lives to this company, it is enormously painful to have our shortcomings laid out so vividly," Barra said. "I was deeply saddened and disturbed as I read the report."

(While she has clearly has some media training, Barra could use additional communications coaching, as demonstrated in her rather awkward Congressional testimony.)

Written by former United States attorney Anton R. Valukas, the 300-plus page report details GM's company culture regarding safety as secretive, uncaring and bureaucratic.

Critics will continue to argue that an "independent" investigation--paid for by GM--reached conclusions that ultimately protect GM's interests.

'Best Report Money Can Buy'

"It seems like the best report money can buy," said Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut). "It absolves upper management, denies deliberate wrongdoing and dismisses corporate culpability."

As this crisis continues, GM will need to communicate consistently and compassionately, while making amends, as it rebuilds its reputation with consumers. Having said that, the company last month had record sales.

Another paradox of reputation management.

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