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Mary Barra

General Motors

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CEO, General Motors

Age: 53

Education: B.S., electrical engineering, Kettering University; MBA, Stanford University

What attracted you to the auto industry? My father was a die maker, so the industry is in my blood. My brother and I used to love when he would bring a new car home and we could explore it inside and out.

Big break: One of the most impactful assignments was managing our Detroit-Hamtramck plant over a decade ago. To me, an assembly plant is a community with thousands of people working in concert to build very complicated, highly technical and beautifully designed vehicles.

At that time, sales of the large sedans we were building at “D-Ham,” as the plant is known, were declining, and we had to make a very painful but necessary decision to temporarily reduce production and our work force. We didn’t have enough time to properly plan, and the reduction in production caused many issues.

We struggled daily to produce quality vehicles at the required rate. After about a month or so, my leadership team and I met to talk about what changes we could drive to meet our commitments in quality, productivity, workplace safety and other measures. The minute we were aligned on our goals, we began to see improvements.

What is the major challenge you’ve faced in your career? The ignition switch recall was one of the most significant challenges in my career. But we aligned as a team, and the men and women of General Motors have never been more committed to putting the customer at the center of everything we do. We will never forget what happened, and we’ll continue to learn from it as we go forward.

Who has had the biggest influence on your career? My parents had the biggest influence on my career. My brother and I were the first in our family to go to college. My mom taught us that if you work hard you could achieve anything.

What should be done to encourage women to enter the auto industry? The auto industry will change more in the next five years than it has in the past 50 years. At GM, we’re redefining personal mobility, whether it’s connectivity, autonomous, electrification or car-sharing. There’s been a lot of progress, but we need to continue to dispel the myth that this is a male-centric industry. Diversity of thought — including gender, age, experience, etc. — is vital for us to win.

Tell us about your family. My family is No. 1. My husband, son and daughter are the most important people in my life. We are each other’s biggest supporters. I love my dogs, Marcy and Hunter, too.

What’s your favorite weekend activity? Watching my children’s sporting events and spending time with family and friends.

Name one thing about yourself that most people don’t know. One of my favorite childhood activities was to sit with my dad at his workbench. Whether we were taking things apart, fixing things or making things, I enjoyed every minute.

If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would it be? My parents.

What’s your guilty pleasure? Watching the Red Wings. I love the sport, and the team represents what you can achieve if you work hard.

By Mike Colias

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