GM’s New CEO Is A Woman. Get Over It. She Has. – Forbes
In her brief tenure as chief executive of General Motors General Motors, Mary Barra has grown accustomed to questions about her gender. She is, after all, the industry’s first female CEO. But in her first interview with reporters since taking over the job, Barra showed she’d much rather talk about where the company is headed.
“There has been a lot of coverage,” she smiled, in what could be the understatement of the year, given the hordes of media that crushed around her at last week’s Detroit auto show. “I’ve never approached any assignment as, ‘I’m a woman doing this job.’ It doesn’t factor into my thinking…I’m Mary doing this job. I want to be valued for leading the team, and the results we achieve and having the right relationships with stakeholders… across the board. That’s how I look at my role.”
Barra, 52, started at GM 33 years ago as a college intern and worked her way up through the company’s manufacturing and product development operations, with brief stints in human resources to help GM through rough patches with employees. Her knack for getting people to pull together, she said, is probably one reason she was named CEO. “I’ve always been focused on winning the hearts and minds of the employee base. When you’re aligned you’ll have superior business results.”
So when she met this week with GM’s top 300 executives from around the world, her message wasn’t about changing direction. It was about staying focused on the game plan – even accelerating it – and about reigniting GM’s passion for innovation.
“There are no right or left turns,” she said. “We have momentum. We have a strategy centered around designing, building and selling the world’s best vehicles.” The priorities remain the same as when her predecessor, Dan Akerson, was running the show: strengthen GM’s brands, maintain a fortress balance sheet, maximize profits in every region of the world and provide a good return to shareholders.
There is no need to pause and rethink the company’s strategy, she said. “We just need to keep going forward. And we want to accelerate. “
It’s a sign of Barra’s management style, perhaps, that she endowed her chief deputy, President and Chief Operating Officer Dan Amman, 41, with enormous power to make sure that happens. The former chief financial officer now has responsibility for managing all of GM’s regional operations around the world, as well as its global Chevrolet and Cadillac brand organizations and its lending arm, GM Financial.
I asked Barra whether Amman’s ultimate task was to crack heads together in places like Europe and parts of Asia, where GM is unprofitable or underperforming. In other words, is he the bad cop to Barra’s good cop?
“There is no good cop or bad cop,” she said, insisting that she and Amman are closely aligned on GM’s business objectives, as is the rest of her team. By having all of GM’s operating regions, as well as the global brands, report to Amman, she said GM will be in a better position to share tactics and strategies that work. Right now, she said, there are “pockets of good sharing,” but that GM and its brands need to be managed on a global, not regional, basis. Amman has the oversight to do that, she said.
As Barra talked about all the opportunities for improvement at GM, I was struck by the number of women she mentioned in key roles at GM.
Alicia Boler-Davis, senior vice president for global quality and customer experience, for example, is an engineer with a wide-ranging assignment to try to improve GM’s image around the world.
Grace Lieblein, vice president of global purchasing and supply chain, is looking to wring out $1 billion in costs, while introducing tough new contract terms that put suppliers on the hook for sharing warranty costs.
Mary Chan, president of GM’s Global Connected Consumer, is overseeing the rollout of a new 4G LTE service, the largest deployment in the industry. Starting later this year, GM will bring a built-in Wi-Fi hotspot to most Chevrolet vehicles, allowing passengers to connect their smartphones, laptops and tablets to high-speed wireless internet.
Diana Tremblay, who headed up labor relations and North American manufacturing for GM, is now vice president of a new unit, Global Business Services, that aims to reduce GM’s back office bureaucracy and cut expenses by 30 percent.
Melissa Howell, senior vice president of global human resources, oversees all of GM’s 220,000 employees worldwide. As a breast cancer survivor, she has a keen interest in supporting others affected by the disease and in promoting research into its causes and potential cures.