Pamela Fletcher, 54
Vice President of Global Innovation, General Motors
Education: B.S., mechanical engineering, General Motors Institute; M.S., mechanical engineering, Wayne State University
What drew you to the auto industry? Every family has the thing they do. We went to the racetrack. The weekdays were spent in the garage getting ready to go to the track. There’s so much adrenaline when you get there with the sights and sounds and the smells, and it was just addictive. I’m not here by accident. I came to the auto industry by choice from this love of cars and racing that I had as a kid. It’s been a great ride. I love learning how things work. Those people who are technologists or engineers really have to help contribute to the art of what’s possible before a broader population can understand how a technology can really be applied. That’s been very rewarding as we transition through electrification, onto automated driving, onto fully autonomous vehicles and so on. Technology continues to be a big motivator and what drives me every day.
First automotive job: I did go to General Motors Institute for my bachelor’s degree, and my sponsor at the time was Fisher Guide in Columbus, Ohio. I started there in July of 1984. I was 17 and I had never seen the inside of any manufacturing facility. It was a hardware stamping plant. I wanted to work on cars, and I had a real passion to get there. I quickly thereafter moved to McLaren, who is known for racing.
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Big break: In 2012, I was named executive chief engineer for all of our electrified vehicles. We had a great team that went on to do amazing things with Gen-2 Volts and Bolts, etc. In the more recent past, I was named vice president of our electric vehicles, and I also had responsibility for our autonomous vehicles. That’s when the technology component ramped up further. My team launched Super Cruise while I was in the chair. We had three generations of the Bolt AV working with the Cruise team in California.
What is the major challenge you’ve faced in your career? The position that I’m in now is challenging, but it’s exciting. Innovation is a very ubiquitous word right now. We are specifically focused on new business models adjacent to our core business where we can reuse assets, capabilities that General Motors has. This idea of operating in a startup-like way within the larger GM is exciting. We have to work quickly to develop new products. We start with a lot of customer empathy, minimum viable products, testing and learning, pivoting when we need to, taking a lot of risk. I, and the team, work hard every day to really navigate some uncharted waters.
You’ve been in the industry 36 years. What has been the most important change you’ve seen? The customer-facing aspect of technology and how it can just really change the whole mobility experience. We’re only going to see that continue to grow. General Motors’ larger vision of zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestion means developing autonomous vehicles, electric vehicles sustainably with technologies that customers not only value but demand. Creating those solutions is more important than it ever was before with our 0-0-0 initiative so that we can all live in a better, safer world.
What do you struggle with? Time. There’s so many things I want to do, and when you work in a very ambiguous space, it takes a lot of nurturing and rolling up your sleeves and working with the team because the answers aren’t clear. They’re not obvious. I thrive on that. But time is certainly a limiting factor.
How do you bring your best self to work? I interface with a lot of people throughout the day. Some of these people I talk to many times a day or week. And some people I may talk to once in a career or once in a year, and I have to remember that that’s going to be their experience and that’s going to be their impression. And you need to give them your attention. You need to give them your best outlook and best advice and positivity.
Tell us about your family. My parents were so supportive of me. There was nothing I ever expressed interest in or that I wanted to do that they said, “You don’t want to do that,” or “Girls don’t do that,” which I think really gave me the freedom to explore what I was interested in and get to a career that was right for me.
— Hannah Lutz