Women’s History Month: Mary Barra

March is National Women’s History Month! I’ll be featuring women all month long. If you’re a woman in business in the Arkansas Oklahoma River Valley, and you’re interested in being highlighted, please click this link: https://bit.ly/3ah96nO
I’m excited about featuring female leaders in our community! 

As a woman in automotive & a huge advocate for female leadership, I’m excited about the first woman I’m featuring, Mary Barra. Ms. Barra is not only an amazing female leader in a male-dominated industry; her leadership style is feminine and powerful. Mary Barra is the CEO of General Motors. General Motors was the first — and remains the only — automaker to be led by a female CEO. GM is one of only two Fortune 500 companies with women in CEO and CFO positions. Six of the 11 members of the board of directors are women. Ms. Barra is famous at GM for her inclusive leadership style & has been known to have “town hall” type meetings to seek input on projects. She has been praised for creating an inclusive environment where employees feel they can voice their opinions. She’s increased efficiency in some very creative ways. She cultivates a culture where departments work together when they had previously never done so. This style of leadership has produced highly effective teams. She is both a breath of fresh air & a force to be reckoned with. 

Here are Five Leadership Lessons from Mary Barra by Steven Snyder that are totally shareworthy. 

  1. Quiet leadership is a workable model for a senior executive. When we think of corporate CEOs, the prima donna image immediately comes to mind: flamboyant, lavish, egotistical, not a team player. Mary Barra is the complete opposite. She is humble and collaborative, eager to give credit to her team rather than steal the limelight herself. Being humble doesn’t necessarily mean lacking in self-confidence. Barra exudes a sense of quiet confidence that makes you want to trust and admire her.
  2. Bring order into a chaotic world. One of a leader’s most important tasks is to impose order and rationality into the chaotic swirl that is today’s business environment. GM’s product development process was in disarray when Barra took over as product chief in 2011. There were 30 different platforms, and inefficiency and poor quality ran rampant. Barra immediately set to work, rationalizing the product line, improving quality and efficiency, and better aligning the product with customer needs. According to outgoing CEO Dan Akerson, Barra’s ability to bring order to the chaotic product development process was one of the major factors that led to her selection as GM’s next CEO.
  3. Build your own expanding hedgehog. In Good to Great, Jim Collins writes about the Hedgehog Model, the intersection of three essential factors for success: (1) what you are passionate about; (2) what you are really good at; and (3) what will reward you economically for your hard work. Barra’s career is the epitome of a perfectly executed expanding hedgehog play. She came to know her passion for cars at a very early age. Throughout her career, she expanded the range of what she’s good at, starting with a foundation in engineering and quickly acquiring skills in quality control, production, human resources, product development, and supply chain management. Lastly, Barra was able to realize the economic fruits of her labors. But she did this by keeping the company’s interests on center stage. By her own account, rather than thinking about the next step in her career ladder, she focused all of her efforts on being successful in her current job. By excelling in each of her many roles, she paved the way to make an ever-increasing economic contribution at GM. It was the economic value Barra created for her company that led to her own financial and career advancement.
  4. Never stop learning. Barra’s decision to take time away from her busy job, to attend the Harvard Business School program, is one indication of the importance Barra places on learning and development. In each of her previous roles, she learned crucial new skills. Now in the top job, she must further expand her skillset, adding global finance, marketing, and sales to her portfolio.
  5. Treat people with dignity and respect. Barra comes across as a genuine, caring, and authentic human being. When she led Human Resources in 2009, just after the GM meltdown, she replaced the bureaucratic image of HR with a human face, emphasizing personal accountability and responsibility. It is truly amazing how empowering it can be when a leader treats a worker as a capable and well-intentioned human being, instead of a number on the assembly line.

Mary Barra has been the Chairman & CEO of General Motors Company since January 15, 2014. She’s married & has two children. Mary’s father, Ray, worked for 39 years at the Pontiac car factory in Detroit. She graduated from the General Motors Institute (now Kettering University) in 1985 with a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering. She attended Stanford Graduate School of Business on a GM fellowship, receiving her Masters in Business Administration in 1990. Ms. Barra started working for General Motors in 1980 as a co-op student when she was 18 years old. Her job was checking fenders & hoods, helping her pay for college while she obtained her degree. She then went on to hold several engineering and administrative positions, including managing the Detroit Hamtramck Assembly plant. In 2008, she became VP of Global Manufacturing Engineering. In 2009, she became VP of Global HR, and in 2011 she was named executive VP of Global Product Development. In the position as VP of Global Product Development, she worked to reduce the number of automobile platforms in GM. In 2013, her role was extended to include Global Purchasing & Supply Chain. When she became CEO of GM, she became the first female head of an automotive manufacturer. 

In her first year as CEO, GM issued 84 safety recalls, including over 30 million cars. I can say that I definitely had the thought that they put her in the position to watch her fail. Maybe they did, but if so, she stepped up & stood out. Ms. Barra was called before Senate to testify and came under suspicion for paying for awards to burnish GM’s image. She created ways to change company culture. As CEO, she has to lead the way to drive technology. Driverless, electric, and other technology, including start-up acquisitions, have been where her mark has been made. Beating rival Tesla to the first electric car in 2017, with the Chevy Bolt, was a sign that she has vision & believes in GM’s future as a driver in electric & vehicle technology. 

Mary Barra is a role model in that she is a driver of company culture and fearless in her vision for the future. In a time when so many are voices of chaos in regards to carbon-neutral solutions, Ms. Barra has been a voice of inspiration & hard work. She hasn’t come across as a pie in the sky type wishing on a hope, a dream, or a field of dandelions. She is a believable leader who has set her course to become an unforgettable leader in automotive & technology. We will be changed by her leadership. Just as society was altered by the automobile, our future will be different because of her leadership. Her bravery to commit to all-electric vehicles by 2035 and by 2040, GM’s global operations will be carbon-neutral, when zero-emissions vehicles currently bring 0% profit to the enormous company..yeah, she’s brave, and I’m betting on her vision every step of the way.

Is there a woman (in automotive or otherwise) who you’d like to see featured this month for National Women’s History Month? Please reach out & let me know. 

Thanks for your time. Women ROCK 🙂

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