100 Leading Women in the North American Auto Industry
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Mary SIPES

Executive Director, Portfolio Planning and Marketing Integration, GM North America • General Motors Co. • Age 49
 
 
 
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Why did you want to work in the auto industry? When General Motors came to campus, and you got an interview, it was like: "Oh, my gosh. That's the place you want to work." I interviewed, and they said, "We'd really like to hire you, but we're in a hiring freeze." So I moved to Texas, which was where I met my now-husband. I didn't like Texas, other than him, so I moved back home. The week I moved home, General Motors called my mother and said: "We're looking for Mary. Do you know where we can find her?" And she said, "She's right here." So I got into the business through the strength of the recommendations and really a bit of good luck.

First automotive job: GM process engineer, starting in 1983.

Proudest professional achievement: The launch of the GMT900 SUVs in 2006. That was the most rewarding start-to-finish thing I've ever done because I worked on full-sized SUVs for seven years as vehicle line director.

Current challenge at work: We're coming off of, clearly, our least fun period in our history. Leading up to that point, we were trying to figure out: What could we do to not go into bankruptcy? We were trying to cut this or that. Now, we're back to the point of rebuilding the company, and we're rebuilding with some new leadership, with some new ideas. But you still have the experience base of people who know what didn't work before.

So the challenge I have is balancing all the things that we'd like to do — because when you've had a period of time when you've kind of been bottled up and not done anything, you want to just explode and do it all. So it's the balance and the discipline.

Why does the auto industry seem like a difficult environment for female executives? I've never really found it to be a difficult environment because I think if you have good thoughts to add and you're comfortable in your own skin, you just don't feel any different. And I have four older brothers who tortured me mercilessly. They blew up my teddy bear in the yard with an M-80. There's not a man here who's going to make me cry!

I do feel there's not enough of us, so maybe it's that lack of numbers that can make some people feel uncomfortable. And I'm not just saying women feel uncomfortable but sometimes men. It's the old — when they swear and they apologize. Or when they say, "Guys," and then they go, "Oh, and gals." That tells me that there's still this sort of consciousness that women are not as pervasive as maybe I'd like them to be.

On the world changing: When I first came into the industry, the business world was different. People entertained at adult establishments. We didn't have anywhere near the sensitivity to sexual harassment. I would be on the assembly line, and there would be someone with their locker open with a full-sized picture of a naked female.

When I talk to younger women today, the response I usually get is "No way." And when I hear "No way," it makes me so happy. How glad I am that they can't relate because the world has changed so much.

What you do to relax: I spend time with my family. I have 24 nieces and nephews, and I can borrow a child of any age at any time. I like to read. I like to do puzzles. I love to entertain. We live on a lake, and my neighbors tease me that we run a bed and breakfast in the summer. I love to take our vacations to Hawaii, my husband and I. Hawaii's our favorite place.

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