Lifetime achievement award: GM’s Mary Barra

Mary Barra
Mary Barra is CEO of General Motors, a role she started in 2016, after beginning work at GM in 1980

Mary Barra is Chair and Chief Executive Officer of General Motors. She aims to advance the customer experience and embolden GM’s core vehicle and services business, in addition to leading the mobility evolution through advanced technologies such as electrification and autonomous driving.

GM founder William Durant set the company up in Flint, Michigan, US. He had a lot of drive and a great deal of ambition: in 1886, he bought a horse cart company and, after some successful marketing at a local fair, received orders for more than 600 carts. 15 years later, the Durant-Dort Carriage Company had grown from a $2,000 investment to a USD$2m establishment and the largest vehicle manufacturer in the country. Durant became a millionaire by the age of 40 and was named the "King of Carriage Makers", before going on to found GM in 1908. 

One century later, GM is leading the automotive industry in a world with ‘Zero Crashes, Zero Emissions and Zero Congestion’ – and CEO Mary Barra is at the helm.

 

From a co-op student to CEO at GM

Barra started her career at GM back in 1980 as a General Motors Institute (Kettering University) co-op student at the Pontiac Motor Division. In 1985, Barra graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering and she completed a Master of Business Administration from the Stanford Graduate School of Business later in 1990.

Barra took on several roles at GM on her way up to CEO. In 2011, she became Senior Vice President, Global Product Development. In 2013, Barra was promoted to GM’s Executive Vice President, Global Product Development, Purchasing and Supply Chain.

Barra is Chair of the Business Roundtable and an association of chief executive officers of America’s leading companies, as well as serving on the Board of Directors of the Walt Disney Company, the Duke University Board of Trustees and the Detroit Economic Club. 

Barra once said GM needed to “stop making crappy cars”, so that’s what GM did. During its third quarter, GM delivered strong results – including record third-quarter revenue despite supply chain challenges.

These results will keep GM on the right track: this is the company’s third consecutive year of full-size pickup leadership and its 22nd year as the full-size SUV leader. 

GM earned more than 8% of the US electric vehicle market in this quarter due to extraordinary sales of the Chevrolet Bolt EV and Bolt EUV. 

“The GM team continues to deliver incredible results, and our Q3 earnings report is evidence of that,” said Barra.

 

Diversity at GM 

General Motors’ automotive vision is to build a world with no crashes, emissions or congestion, and it is also dedicated to zero exclusion. As an inclusive company, GM is proud of the welcoming environment it has made over the past decades, where ‘everyone feels welcomed and valued for who they are’. The 167,000 GM employees are encouraged to bring wide-ranging perspectives and experiences to solve supply chain and sustainability challenges.

“Diversity is all about the pipeline,” Barra said. “It’s not just about gender, but about all forms of diversity. At GM, when we search for executive candidates, we require a diverse slate. If we find that a position has no diverse candidate, I ask the question, ‘What are we doing so that three years from now there will be a diverse candidate to consider?’”

GM is proud to be leading equal representation from an executive level and will welcome the day when female leadership is the norm. Barra is a founding member of GM’s Inclusion Advisory Board, on which she serves as the Chair. 

“The success of every company is about its people,” Barra told Michigan Daily. “I make sure I understand key parts of the business and, having worked in an assembly plant, having been a plant manager, having been responsible for product development, having understood HR – all of those things really round out to give me a lot of the skills that I need as CEO.”

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