Barbara Stokel, 53
Regional Vice President, Eastern Operations, General Motors Acceptance Corp.
Education: B.B.A., Eastern Michigan University; M.S., business administration, Sloan Fellow, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
What your college professors didn't teach you: "I don't think any college program teaches you street smarts. Despite their best efforts, I don't think they really teach people how to reason, how to sift through facts and go to the heart of an issue."
First automotive job: A college graduate-in-training position training the accounting staff at New Departure Hyatt Bearings Division, a components division of General Motors, in 1974
- 1998-2003 Area vice president, Northeast operations, GMAC
- 1995-98 Area manager, Hartford and Baltimore branches, GMAC
Proudest achievement: "I'm most proud of raising two children and doing that as a single parent. There's nothing professionally that ever equals that success. And I mean that. There isn't anything anyone can point to that's as important as raising their children."
Current challenge: "My biggest challenge is doing more with less, finding the most creative way to maximize a program or maximize what we can do, given the current constraints GMAC is operating under right now. New funding strategies would be one of the challenges we have right now."
On being successful: "You have to say what you mean and mean what you say - all the time, every day. You have to do your homework. You have to learn to think differently so you can mentally and strategically bring all the pieces of the automotive business together. The more diversity of knowledge you have, it gives you a leg up.
"I can't stress this too much. You have to be willing to take assignments viewed by others as high risk, assignments other people don't want because they're not glamorous or geographically desirable.
"You have to go get the courage and be willing to do things that others aren't willing to do. Sometimes that involves making personal sacrifices. Those are the kind of assignments that get noticed. I had one earlier in my career."
What about the auto industry surprised you: "I'm surprised every day. It's changing. It's fluid. It changes in terms of product competitively; the dealer network, the legal environment, legislative environment."
Job to which you aspire: "I always work the job at hand. I think you lose focus if your eye is on the next job."
What you do to relax: "Cook. I read military history. There are great strategic lessons in military history. Staying on top of the game in a business as competitive as the automotive business requires a great deal of strategy and requires strategy while you're on the move, which is what military history is all about."