Former GM CEO: 'I Can't Think of a Better Leader Than Mary Barra'

Jul 28, 2014 06:30 PM EDT | Jordan Ecarma

The speculation that recently instated CEO Mary Barra was used as a scapegoat during the General Motors ignition switch crisis is not only unfounded but also shows that "fools can say anything," Dan Akerson, former GM CEO, told the Detroit News.

He reinforced his comments in a May interview with Forbes where he said Barra "didn't know about it. I bet my life on it," referring to the problems in GM small cars that apparently came to light at least a decade ago.

Akerson stepped down as chief executive in January to take care of his wife, Karin, as she battles cancer. He pointed out that if he had stayed on as CEO, lawmakers may have gone easier on him compared with Barra since he had only been with the company for three and a half years.

"I think it would have been easier for me to defend the company, because quite frankly I thought Mary got treated a bit unfairly by virtue of, 'You've been with the company 30 years. Why didn't you change things?'" Akerson told the News.

Akerson, who joined the GM board in 2009 after being appointed by the U.S. Treasury, had nothing but praise for Barra and the company's management team.

"I was proud that the team faced the facts, brutal as they were, and I think they formulated a plan of recovery and I think that's something to be proud of. I can't think of a better leader than Mary."

The delayed recall of around 2.6 million cars connected with at least 54 crashes and 13 deaths was a culture problem in the company, Akerson said in remarks that reflect similar comments from Barra.

"I think we all--including the new and the old part of the management team--didn't fully realize how deep some of the problems ran," he told the News. "I think we built a good foundation. I think the company needed a lot of change, and I said a lot of that culture wasn't where we wanted it to be."

In other GM news, federal regulators have closed an investigation into the 2007-'09 Saturn Outlook and GMC Acadia models, neither of which will be recalled, Bloomberg News reported. 

The automaker has recalled nearly 29 million vehicles in North America this year. 

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