Executive Director & CIO, Global Product Development & Quality, General Motors
Education: B.S., mathematics, St. Mary’s College; M.S., software engineering, Carnegie Mellon University
What drew you to the auto industry? I grew up in Michigan and my family was always big Chevy fans. Those are the cars that we bought. But my dad was also a high school teacher. He taught drafting as well as auto shop. After college, I was in the financial industry for a long time. When the opportunity came to move back to Michigan, I actually joined our financial arm of GMAC when that was still part of General Motors. When I had the option to switch to the automotive side, my passion really was to be able to do that. I took a role supporting corporate functions.
First automotive job: I first came over to GM in 2007 and I was a lead architect for our IT function that supported finance and corporate staffs and HR.
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Big break: I think every time you move jobs, you get a big break. But I would say that my big break was when I was the head of IT operations. It allowed me to touch manufacturing and understand the criticality of the plants and their processes, and then product development, purchasing supply chain, our OnStar business. It gave me the broadest view of General Motors and all of the aspects of the auto industry.
What is the major challenge you’ve faced in your career? Learning the auto industry is epic. It’s huge. Automotive has a lot of intricacies to it, including the complexity of manufacturing. What I find most amazing about General Motors is our manufacturing footprint, what we’re able to do there, how quick we’re able to move and the discipline that we have in that environment.
You’ve been in the industry 13 years. What has been the most important change you’ve seen? The transformation from being an automotive industry to tiptoeing into a technology industry. The software on the vehicle has completely increased in complexity. And the transformation of the customer experience with the vehicle has become so important. The technology integration is becoming so advanced and so critical that the blend between IT and the business becomes closer and closer.
Describe your leadership style. I’m a team builder. I very much believe in diversity. I believe in inclusion. I believe in having lots of thoughts at the table so that everybody can come in and be their full self. I think we’re best when we’re able to have everybody’s ideas, regardless of level or title or experience. Some of the things that we’re doing are new and leading edge, so nobody has the experience. Teamwork trumps anything in trying to get work done.
What should be done to encourage women to enter the auto industry? The challenge that we have with the female pipeline starts in junior high when they stop loving math and science. Making them continue to love math and science and really explore the opportunities that are there will help us continue to grow that pipeline and keep people interested. There’s also a stigma that you have to understand the mechanics of how to change oil and how to change a tire, as opposed to the beauty of it, which is a customer experience, the elegance of an infotainment system, the challenges of mobile apps to connect to it, the beauty of a design of a vehicle, the gorgeous interiors and the fabrics that we use inside of a car. If we can get them understanding that early, I think they would really find it to be quite an appealing industry.
Are you able to maintain friendships? Absolutely. I would say any woman would tell you that their female friendships are some of the most important things that they have. They keep you grounded. They’re not day-to-day with you, so they can listen and hear what you’re feeling or sensing. My best friend can tell if I’m stressed by the tone of my voice, even if I don’t know it. They’re really important to keep you grounded and keep some perspective on what’s important and where you are and how to get out of a situation if you’re stuck.
What’s the best book you’ve read in the last year, and what did you get out of it? The Wright Brothers by David McCullough. Their story and their drive for innovation — it was really inspiring. As we try to figure out what the next big innovation is, both in the auto industry and in the world in general, and as we strive for something so aspirational as zero congestion, zero accidents, zero emissions, that’s a lofty goal. But they wanted to fly a plane and they went and looked at birds flying in North Carolina and decided they’d figure it out. Being able to take that leap and to put your heart and soul into something was really inspiring. Zero-zero-zero seems so far off, and after reading their story and their dedication, it made it feel like it was closer than I thought.
— Hannah Lutz