Renewing Confidence in Troubled Times

Mary Barra attended General Motors Institute (GMI) as an Electrical Engineering student.  She had a co-op with GE when she was 18.  Like many engineering students, the co-op was critical to being able to afford college.  When she graduated from GMI, she went to Stanford for an MBA.

She returned to GM and worked in a variety of engineering positions.  Her first major career move came when she became the plant manager at the Detroit/Hamtramck assembly plant.  Beginning in 2008, she had a fast-track career involving most of the key business areas of GM including:

  • Manufacturing Engineering (ME/IE)
  • Human Resources (MBA)
  • Product Development (ME)
  • Purchasing/Supply Chain (IE)

In 2014, she became the CEO of GM.  She was the first woman to be named the CEO of a major car company.  GM had just come out of major financial problems during the great recession.  It was critical that consumer confidence be re-established.

Shortly after her appointment as CEO, Barra learned of a major problem with ignition switches.  She had to act quickly and forcefully to manage the crisis.  Vehicles were recalled to fix the switches.  Outside experts were hired to investigate why the problem with the ignition switches occurred in the first place and why the problem wasn’t communicated to upper management.  Victims were compensated.  The corporate culture was scrutinized and employees were encouraged to report on problems.  As a result of the actions that Barra took, GM’s reputation has been restored.

Mary Barra is working to convert GM into an electro-powered company.  Her leadership of GM has been recognized by major business publications which annually place her on the top 10 of their most influential women.

Confidence is seen from two perspectives:  the confidence you have in yourself and the confidence that others have in you.  Those who are selected for top leadership positions are often asked to take on roles in business areas where they had no formal training.  In Mary Barra’s case, she was asked to oversee four major areas of the business before she became the CEO.  It was clear that the senior leadership at GM had confidence in her.  When she took over the top spot at GM, the American public had begun to lose confidence in GM.  Mary Barra was under a lot of personal pressure to help restore public confidence in GM as a responsible corporate citizen.  She was able to restore that confidence.

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“Trust yourself.  Create the kind of self that you will be happy to live with all your life.”
– Golda Meir (former leader of Israel)

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