Transcript: Sen. Marco Rubio’s Q&A with GM CEO Mary Barra on the ignition switch recall

Partial transcript of Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-Florida) Q&A with General Motors CEO Mary Barra on “Examining the GM Recall and NHTSA’s Defect Investigation Process”. The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation’s Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Insurance’s hearing was held on April 2, 2014:

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida):
…Ms. Barra, you’ve been at GM for how many years?

Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors:
33.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida):
33 years. You’ve discussed a lot today about the culture at General Motors and the change in the culture. Can I ask you about the culture at GM and your years there?

Was there a culture at GM at anytime that you’ve worked there about avoiding – a culture of discouraging bad news about the company?

Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors:
I think the culture wasn’t always as welcoming of bad news. Again, it was not across the whole company but in pockets it wasn’t always as welcomed as it should have been.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida):
But certainly at senior management positions in light of, for example the bankruptcy and the subsequent need for the federal government to intervene and bail out the company for it to survive, did notice that that was exacerbated during that time, that at that point in time there was a particular amount of resistance towards any sort of bad news for the company like, for example faulty ignition switches?

Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors:
I wouldn’t draw that conclusion.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida):
So you were never involved – you never saw any conversations with regards to the need to diminish the amount of bad news about the company or anything that would disruptive even if it involved safety issues?

Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors:
No. No.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida):
So let me ask you this question now. Leading to the next point, I think I just want to ask you – and I know your answer is going to be there’s an ongoing investigation but I think it’s important to ask it. From what you know now, from the documents you’ve been able to review and the conversations that you’ve had – I would imagine this issue has captured the attention and perhaps consumed much of your time and the time of senior management at GM, is that right? This is probably the central issue confronting the company right now. So just based on what you know over the last few weeks having dealt with this issue, can you tell us whether General Motors intentionally misled its customers and federal regulators when someone decided to delay disclosing or fixing the faulty ignition switch?

Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors:
I don’t know. That’s why we’re doing the investigation.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida):
But you won’t rule that out?

Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors:
I – Mr. Valukas has the reins to go wherever the facts take him, and the facts are the facts, and we’ll deal with those.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida):
So if in fact it turns out that there are individuals who made decisions – I mean, is the purpose of this investigation to deduce two things: First, the process that led to these decisions to be made – how was it that this decision was made so that you never do that again. That’s the first part of the investigation. The second part – and the one I think is important because this is not just about General Motors. There are other companies out there making all sorts of products, and what we never want to do is live in a country where companies can decide that as a business model we will decide not to make fixes to things despite the fact that they’re dangerous because it costs too much to fix it. It’s a dangerous precedent. I heard the Ford Pinto mentioned earlier. Because we would never tolerate that if I’m at a restaurant and poison was part of my ingredients and I decide not to change the recipe because it costs too much money and someone died, they wouldn’t just close down my restaurant; I would go to jail.

So my question is as part of this investigation to decide who made these decisions – who in fact decided or what group of people decided not to disclose these flaws and to do something about it in a timely manner – is part of the investigation to identify those individuals who made those decision?

Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors:
If there were decisions made by individuals that were inappropriate – and some of the things I’ve seen I’m very troubled by – as Mr. Valukas completes his findings, the GM – my team, my leadership team will take steps and if that means there are disciplinary actions up to and including termination, we will do that. We demonstrated that already when we dealt with the India Tavera issue last year.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida):
So certainly if someone was negligent, if someone said, “We have this information. We don’t think it’s a big deal, we shouldn’t do anything about it,” that is negligent and certainly someone like that should not continue to work for the company. But will you also look for evidence in that investigation that in fact that people knew this was a problem but decided that the costs weren’t worth it. Are you also in search of that to see if in fact there were individuals or a culture in the company created by a group of individuals that encouraged employees to make these sorts of cost-benefit analysis based on economics and not on customer safety?

Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors:
As I’ve said, that type of analysis on a safety issue or a safety defect is not acceptable. It’s not the way we’re going to do business, and that is not the culture – we will make sure that that is not the culture we have going forward.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida):
But again my question – if in fact you’ve discovered or will you look to see if in fact there was a decision made by a group of individuals not to move forward on this because of its costs?

Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors:
Yes, yes.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida):
You want to know the answer to that question and we will know the names of these people and we will know the process by which they made that decision?

Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors:
We will work on the process. In raising the names, I have to make sure that I stay consistent with employer laws that I have. But trust me, we acted swiftly when we had issues with individuals who are no longer with the company in the past.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida):
And I would follow up by talking to their counsels and ours as well. But I’m not sure there are any laws that allow companies to shield an individual who made at that point what appears to be a criminal decision not to move forward on a safety item because of some sort of internal economic consideration.

Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors:
I guess we need to complete the investigation and have the facts in front of us, and we will act not only from a company perspective but if there’s issues beyond that that have to be dealt with, we will deal with those.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida):
…Will you fully cooperate with the Justice Department if they want to conduct a concurrent investigation alongside the internal one?

Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors:
We will fully cooperate with the Justice Department.

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