Misplaced Blame

By Frederick Henderson

Aug. 31, 2009

My name is Fritz Henderson, and I am president and CEO at General Motors. I read your recent online and front-page stories on GM human resources and Katy Barclay and felt compelled to respond.

I found the articles (both very similar) to be filled with inaccuracies and false assumptions and, in general, very mean-spirited. A few facts, if you will allow me:

• You state that a leadership change in HR at GM was “long overdue.” That certainly wasn’t our feeling. On a couple of occasions we (GM) asked Katy Barclay to stay on and deal with the very difficult issues and environment we have been facing in recent years. It was Katy’s decision to leave GM following our recent completion of the bankruptcy process. Through 2009 and in the bankruptcy process, Katy played a key role in supporting the painful but necessary salaried and executive workforce resizing, compensation and benefits changes, and difficult changes in retiree benefits—all handled with compassion and caring.

• Your story quotes Rob Kleinbaum calling Katy one of the “leaders responsible for the destruction of the company.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Katy built a strong HR organization at GM and she has taken on some of the toughest issues we have faced in our 100 years of history, including the extensive redesign of our U.S. pension and health care plans for salaried employees, creating comprehensive workforce planning tools that facilitated the streamlining of our U.S. salaried workforce, and the hiring and development of HR professionals and leaders in growth and emerging markets around the globe. Katy has also been instrumental GM’s ability to recruit talent—25 percent our executive leadership team has been hired from outside the company since 2000.

• Katy’s replacement, Mary Barra, is a great leader recognized inside and outside of GM who has worked in manufacturing (including running a plant), communications and engineering. She is exactly the kind of leader to take on a role like this if excellent HR processes and staff are in place.

Let me make a few more points:

• Katy was our first global leader for HR (1999). She has provided strong focus and results over 10 years. She developed talent worldwide, particularly in our most important growth and emerging markets.

• Katy also has created very strong HR practices spanning the GM enterprise in areas of compensation, talent management, global learning and development, and beyond.

• Katy and the human resources team have been significant contributors to crucial structural cost reductions. GM’s HR team, led by Katy, and the work it has accomplished have been featured in numerous HR publications—including Workforce Management several times.

• Katy was named one of the 100 leading women in the North American auto industry, one of the most influential women by Crain’s Detroit Business (one of your sister publications) and a member of the National Academy of HR.

Bottom line: It is true that GM went bankrupt, requiring support form the U.S. and Canadian taxpayers to support our exit from bankruptcy through a 363 sale process. The reasons for the bankruptcy are myriad and complex, many with historical roots. Nonetheless, all of the leaders of GM must recognize accountability for what has happened. However, to single out Katy Barclay and the GM global human resources team is both unfair and, in many ways, ludicrous—as well as a disservice to your readers.


Frederick A. Henderson
President and CEO
General Motors

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