13 Questions with Mary Barra

4 minute read

As CEO, you steered GM through the safety recall and litigation over the ignition switches. Is there anything you would do differently now?

There are always things you would change on the margin, but generally I’m very proud of the way we lived our values as we managed through the recall.

GM recently offered payments to owners of some large SUVs. Why?

We found that there had been a data error in the way that we calculated the fuel economy on the labels of the GMC Acadia, the Buick Enclave and the Chevrolet Traverse. So although this wasn’t a safety issue, when we found an error, we raised it and are fixing it.

Can you explain the investment in Lyft, a ride-share company that wants fewer cars on the road?

At a very high level going forward, General Motors wants to help people get from point A to point B, whether it’s their traditional owner-driver model, sharing, or in the future, I’m confident it will be in autonomous [vehicles].

Your association with GM goes back to childhood, since your dad was a diemaker there. At some point did you say, “O.K., I’m going to aim to be CEO”?

I never had a five- or 10-year plan to become the CEO of the company. I always wanted to contribute fully in the role I was in. If you do every job like you’re going to do it for the rest of your life, that’s when you get noticed.

Do you see younger female executives making mistakes you wish you could warn them about?

The biggest message I have for young women is, Don’t start cutting off branches of your career tree unnecessarily early. Sometimes women say, I know I want to have a family or play in the local symphony, and they start pulling themselves out of their career path. You don’t have to take yourself out of the running before you even start.

The Chevy Volt was a much admired partly electric car, but GM sold fewer than it hoped. How will you measure the success of the new all-electric Bolt? Do you have a number?

We don’t. We believe that when you have over 200 miles of electric range, it erases range anxiety for most cases. We think that for the first time, at an affordable level, this might be the car that is a person’s only vehicle.

What is on your blue-sky list?

My goal is for General Motors to lead in safe autonomous driving.

Are you concerned about rumors of an Apple Car?

We assume that any companies that are rumored to be doing it are probably going to. What we focus on is leading the technology and integrating that technology into a vehicle that delights the customer.

So when you wake up in the morning, what are your first thoughts?

I spend a lot of early mornings thinking about executing our plan quickly. The big thing I worry about is speed.

Speaking of which, have you ever gotten a ticket?

Just a couple. Nothing excessive. It was more in that five-mile range.

Who would you like to see as the next U.S. President?

I really have not made up my mind yet. We aren’t even through officially knowing who are the two candidates running.

Is there anybody you would rule out?

There is still so much to learn.

Do your kids treat you differently now that you’re Fortune’s most powerful woman in America?

No, they remind me that my most important job is mom in their eyes.


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