Mary Barra’s name is in the news a good bit these days – for one thing, she’s the first woman to serve as CEO of a major global automobile manufacturer.
But, for another, she has recently announced plans for the company to close plants in several states, including Ohio, Maryland and Michigan, while at the same time having plants in China and Mexico remain open. This, at a time when most of the U.S. population has become acutely aware of the automobile companies’ tendency in recent years to manufacture cars outside the U.S., then ship them in tariff-free for American consumption. That might have been a clever plan at one time, but it’s one that simply won’t “fly,” politically, these days. Thus, Mary Barra has her work cut out for her. I have to admit that I don’t watch TV, but I do sometimes have the TV on in the family room and, while passing through see various snippets of the news. In recent days there have been clips on OneAmericanNews of Barra being interviewed after her meetings with state delegations on her plans for closing plants and laying off workers. It’s always a good idea to talk in person with those affected by serious issues; however, this morning on Fox Business, I heard someone expound on Barra’s virtues as a CEO, saying that she was “without a doubt, the best CEO of an automobile company, to date.” Well, I find that quite a stretch because I’ve heard nothing particularly positive coming out of Barra’s five-year tenure as CEO, but I know for a fact that Alan Mulally, CEO of Ford, beginning in 2006, worked miracles in turning around that company, achieved those quickly, and has “gone down in history” for his efforts in “saving Ford” – cf, numerous supporting articles, including an excellent one written by KornFerry. All of the “broohaha” did, however, make me decide to take a closer look at Barra’s history and her professional experiences in order to determine what, indeed, makes her tick. Barra is of Finnish extraction and her father worked at the Pontiac plant in Dearborn. She also has been a GM product, having started to work for GM at age 18, checking fender panels and hoods, to pay for her college tuition. She graduated with a BS in electrical engineering from General Motors Institute (now Kettering University) and attended Stanford Graduate School of Business on a GM fellowship, receiving a Masters in Business Administration in 1990. She has continued with GM since that time, working her way up, and, in 2008, was named to the position of Vice President, Global Manufacturing Engineering and, in 2009, achieved the position of Vice President of Global Human Resources. In 2013, her position was expanded to include Global Purchasing and Supply Chain, and, in 2014, she was named CEO. Over the course of her career at GM, she has pushed the company to transition into technological possibilities and, since her appointment as CEO, has been strongly in favor of driverless cars with major acquisitions to support this possibility, including that of Strobe, a startup focused on driverless technology. In 2017, she pushed forward with the development of the Chevy Bolt EV, beating out rival Tesla and becoming the first electric car priced under $40K with a range of 200 miles. Because the Bolt hasn’t sold well – electric cars aren’t high on anyone’s “must have” list – Bolt factories are now among those that Barra wants to close, ostensibly so that she can concentrate the company’s efforts on driverless cars. I’d say that Barra is in pursuit of a legacy, not necessarily in pursuit of helping GM become a sound company and finally rid itself of its image as “Government Motors.”