GM CEO withdraws from Karmanos cancer event

Michael Wayland
The Detroit News

General Motors Co. CEO Mary Barra will no longer co-chair a well-known fundraising dinner next year with her husband for the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute.

The decision comes after Barbara Karmanos’ son, Nick Karmanos, decided to leave the Detroit-based institute at the end of the month “to pursue other opportunities” after 16 years as vice president of institutional relations.

“Mary and Tony Barra had intended to serve as co-chairs of next year’s Gala, but in light of the new developments, they will not be serving as co-chairs of the gala next year,” GM spokesman Patrick Morrissey said in a statement.

Morrissey said in terms of overall financial support for the institute — averaging about $500,000 a year from the GM Foundation since 2010 — “GM has not made any decisions.” He said later this year the company, “will evaluate them within the framework of our overall Corporate Philanthropy strategy, as we do with all requests for grants.”

Karmanos’ departure was first reported by Crain’s Detroit Business, which cited anonymous sources saying Karmanos disagreed with some spending decisions made by hospital officials and Flint-based McLaren Health Care Corp., which acquired the institute in 2013.

Patricia Ellis, the institute’s media relations director, declined to comment on the report and directed questioning to statements from the organization and Nick Karmanos that don’t address the reported dispute.

“I am proud to have played a small role in the incredible care and research that takes place at Karmanos Cancer Institute every day,” reads a statement from Nick Karmanos. “Having lost my mother at just age 46 to cancer, I find peace and comfort knowing that, as a team, we have saved so many families from this same fate. I know their great work will continue and I will be forever proud to have been part of such an important effort.”

The institute commended Nick Karmanos, one of three sons of Barbara and Compuware Corp. co-founder Peter Karmanos Jr., for his service: “He passionately committed to the fight against cancer and is an advocate for cancer patients and their families,” adding the Karmanos Cancer Institute “is grateful for the many contributions he has made to ensure that the best cancer care is available to anyone impacted by cancer.”

McLaren spokesman Kevin Tompkins referred questions to Ellis.

As for the decision by Barra and her husband Tony to not chair the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute 35th annual dinner, a statement from institute President and CEO Dr. Gerold Bepler applauded the automaker for its support over the years but didn’t elaborate on the couple’s decision.

“GM and the GM Foundation have continuously demonstrated over the years their commitment to the fight against cancer,” he said. “Both have been major supporters as well as advocates of new and innovative cancer research underway at Karmanos Cancer Institute to help develop new and better therapies that benefit cancer patients here in Michigan and elsewhere.”

The GM Foundation has donated more than $7 million to the cancer center since the 1990s and the company has been lead sponsor of the annual dinner since 2010.

The Barras last chaired the event in 2012; former GM CEO and Chairman Dan Akerson, and then-GM North America President Mark Reuss also served as chairs.

The 34th annual dinner gala in April raised more than $2.4 million to benefit cancer research, according to the organization’s website. It was chaired by GM Vice President of Global Purchasing and Supply Chain Steve Kiefer and his wife, Paula.

The cancer institute was named the Michigan Cancer Foundation until 1995 when it was renamed in memory of Barbara Ann Karmanos, who died of breast cancer in 1989. Peter Karmanos Jr. donated $15 million at the time of the change.

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Twitter: @MikeWayland