General Motors Co. (GM) Chief Executive Officer Mary Barra is reintroducing herself with public appearances outside Detroit, her first since testifying before Congress in July about the carmaker’s recent safety recall.
Barra, who took the job in January, was thrust into a harsh media glare almost immediately as controversy mushroomed following a February recall of small cars for a fatally flawed ignition switch. The action was expanded to cover 2.59 million vehicles linked to at least 21 deaths.
Even as GM has flagged more than 29 million vehicles in North America this year for various fixes and faces an ongoing Justice Department investigation, Barra is presenting herself anew as a CEO in the corporate world. This week, she appeared at a New York event alongside Chelsea Clinton and Alibaba Group Holdings Chairman and founder Jack Ma.
After a period of re-introduction, “it will be time to get back to work and see how she does,” said Alexander Edwards, president of Strategic Vision Inc., a San Diego-based marketing consulting firm. “My guess is she will do well with this reboot.”
Barra joined Clinton and Ma on Sept. 23 on a panel hosted by the Clinton Global Initiative, a foundation run by Chelsea’s father, former President Bill Clinton, that works with CEOs and government leaders to tackle global challenges. Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in the audience.
Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg
Mary Barra, chief executive officer of General Motors Co., speaks during a panel... Read More
Later that day, Barra accepted an award from the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, an interfaith organization that honors leaders for putting social responsibility ahead of business results.
Barra received the accolade for “encouraging a standard in which corporate America and global corporations accept responsibility,” according to a statement from the group.
The CEO has spearheaded a renewed recall push at GM that has seen the Detroit-based automaker flag 25.9 million cars in the U.S., eclipsing Ford Motor Co. (F)’s single-year record of 23.3 million in 2001.
She has also hired Kenneth Feinberg, the lawyer who oversaw the Sept. 11 compensation fund, to administer GM’s bid to compensate victim of crashes involving the GM cars with faulty ignitions. The company has said there’s no cap on the program.
“Our focus is to do the right thing,” she said in an interview after her panel discussion, at the Clinton event, “It’s less about the numbers and more about how people were impacted.”
Being rewarded for her response to the recall represents a stark contrast to Barra’s public reception after her first appearance before Congress in April. Back then, her evasive approach to answering questions about the problem was mocked in a “Saturday Night Live” skit, where the comedy troupe depicted her physically skidding out of the hearings on her chair in an attempt to escape.
Barra said she isn’t concerned with her image.
“This isn’t about me,” she said. “It’s about GM.”