General Motors Co. shareholders are being asked today to vote to approve new directors and incentive plans for senior executives. Protesters outside, though, are seeking to keep investors focused on the people killed in small cars equipped with a flawed ignition switch.
Ken Rimer, who lost his 18-year-old stepdaughter in a Chevrolet Cobalt crash in 2006, said he plans to join others in demonstration as Mary Barra holds her first shareholder meeting as chief executive officer.
“We’re just trying to keep the pressure on GM,” Rimer said yesterday by telephone as he joined others outside the company’s Detroit headquarters.
GM last week revealed the results of a three-month internal investigation into why the largest U.S. automaker took more than a decade to recall 2.59 million cars linked to at least 13 deaths. The 325-page report found a pattern of incompetence and neglect, though it didn’t uncover any conspiracy to cover up facts. Led by outside lawyer Anton Valukas, the probe detailed how GM’s engineering and legal departments failed to grasp what was going on or move quickly to address it.
As Barra discussed the findings with employees at a town hall-style meeting on June 5, she called on them to change.
“I want you to never to forget it,” Barra told employees. “This is not just another business crisis for General Motors. We aren’t simply going to fix this and move on.”
Barra, who was held blameless in the investigation, ousted 15 employees over the findings and said that Kenneth Feinberg, who ran similar funds for victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the 2010 BP Plc oil spill, would oversee the creation of a compensation fund for survivors and families of victims of the flawed part. The fund will begin accepting claims Aug. 1.
Greg Martin, a GM spokesman, yesterday reiterated Barra’s statements from last week.
“We are taking responsibility for what has happened by taking steps to treat these victims and their families with compassion, decency and fairness,” he said in an e-mail. “We made serious mistakes in the past and as a result we’re making significant changes in our company to ensure they never happen again.”
Laura Christian, the birth mother of Amber Marie Rose, who died in 2005, said she also planned to return to GM’s headquarters to protest and push for tougher industry regulations and oversight. “We want GM to be held accountable for its actions,” she said.
Another group of protesters from Bogota, Colombia, said on its webpage that it planned to join the families today as well.
“They are calling on the shareholders to hold GM executives accountable for at least 13 deaths resulting from defective ignition switches in Chevrolets and Saturns, and the disabling injuries and firings suffered by GM assemblers at a substandard plant in a suburb of Bogota, Colombia,” the website said.
Congressional leaders have said that Barra, who already faced House and Senate panels in April, will be called to testify again on the recalls, as the U.S. Justice Department investigates as well.
The company last month agreed to pay a $35 million fine as part of the Transportation Department’s investigation into how it handled the February recall. GM has also added about 35 investigators as it shows a willingness to take vehicles off the road for a variety of issues.
The automaker also has stepped up recalls of other vehicles for a wide variety of reasons. The total recalled in the U.S. this year has reached almost 14 million, beating GM’s previous record of 10.7 million in 2004, according to U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration figures.
This will be Barra’s first shareholder meeting since becoming CEO in January. She succeeded Dan Akerson, who retired early to care for his sick wife.
Beyond the recall crisis, Barra faces challenges in Europe where the company has lost more than $18 billion since 1999, in South America where it faces currency fluctuations, and in Asia where it’s trying to restructure operations outside of China.
Shareholders will be asked by the company to approve the election of Joe Ashton, a retired vice president of United Auto Workers union, as a new board member along with Barra.
They will also be asked by victims’ families to keep more in mind than the bottom line.
“It’s hard to change a corporate culture,” said Rimer, the stepfather. “You can’t change business overnight, but we just want to make sure that the shareholders are in on this too, in regards, to hey, ‘Let’s keep the pressure on and see what we can do to make sure nobody else dies.’”