Mary T. Barra believes the auto industry will change dramatically in the next five to ten years and aims to be a driving force in that change as Chairwoman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of General Motors (GM) Company. Barra envisions a world with zero crashes, to save lives; zero emissions, so we can pass down a healthier planet to future generations; and zero congestion, so the precious commodity of time doesn’t have to be wasted sitting in traffic according to the GM Website. Holding the position of General Motors CEO since January 15th, 2014, Barra is the first female CEO of a major global automaker. Barra is focused on strengthening GM’s core car, truck, and crossover business while leading a mobility transformation in our society through innovations like electric cars, autonomous driving (self-driving cars) and car sharing. Barra aims to put the customer at the center of everything the company does. She is truly leading transformations in the auto-industry and shaping the future for women in business!
Before becoming CEO, Barra was no rookie to working at GM, having worked there for 37 years! She served the company in many prior roles, such as Executive VP of Global Product Development, VP of Global Human Resources, VP of Global Manufacturing Engineering, and Plant Manager of Detroit Hamtramck Assembly. In fact, Barra began her career with GM in 1980 as a General Motors Institute (Kettering University) co-op student at the Pontiac Motor Division. Her true introduction to the automobile industry dates back to when she was an 18-year-old electrical engineering student whose job was to inspect fender panels and car hoods to pay her college tuition! After Barra graduated with a B.S. in Electrical Engineering in 1985, she attended Stanford Graduate School of Business on a GM fellowship and received her MBA in 1990.
When it came to the race for GM’s CEO position in 2014, Barra was up against three men who held executive positions within the company and were seen as strong contenders for the role. According to Forbes, it has been said that Barra has accomplished more in three years than most CEOs do in 30 years. Barra’s personality is described as quiet and her leadership style is described as team-building and consensus-seeking centered, yet concise and decisive when it comes to making decisions, according to a New York Times article.
Barra has made decisions that other GM leaders never dared, like pushing to deliver the Chevrolet Bolt EV, the industry’s first affordable, long-range electric car, in record time, beating automakers like Tesla, according to Forbes. The record earnings of GM, driven by lower costs and higher prices on strong-selling vehicles, over the past three years since Barra has been CEO prove how effective her leadership has been to the company. When asked if she had any interest in switching careers, Barra responded, “I am 150% committed to General Motors. This is an incredibly exciting time because not only do I believe we are putting the best vehicles on the road that we have been in my career here, but when I look at the opportunities we have with autonomous (vehicles), with electrification, with connectivity, I’m very passionate about it…,” according to Forbes.
Barra’s role as CEO of GM makes a statement in a world where just over 20 of the Fortune 500’s chief executives are women, according to the New York Times. Given the male-dominated culture of the auto industry and GM’s historical importance to the U.S. economy, the feat is even more notable. In 2017, Barra was listed number two in Fortune’s Most Powerful Women and number 5 on Forbes World’s 100 Most Powerful Women.
In addition to her role at GM, Barra also serves on the Board of Directors of the Walt Disney Company, the Stanford University Board of Trustees, and the Detroit Economic Club. She is also married with two children.
Barra’s leadership of GM is breaking down barriers for women in the auto-industry and driving innovations for positive change!
By: Allison DeSantis