Barra Will Put Pedal To The Mettle Of GM's Recovery

by , Jan 24, 2014, 7:51 AM
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Mary Barra, who succeeded Dan Akerson as General Motors CEO, met for two days with the automaker’s top 300 executives from around the world last week and then sat down with a dozen or so beat reporters for a discussion of her agenda at Detroit headquarters yesterday. The big news is that there wasn’t any, it appears.

“General Motors CEO Mary Barra said today that she plans ‘no right or left turns’ from the path laid out by her predecessor and expects to accelerate the company’s turnaround in part through better integration of its regional operations around the globe,” writes Automotive News’ Mike Colias in his lede. 

Akerson, who stepped down earlier than he had planned because his wife is battling late-stage cancer, remains at GM as a senior advisor for the time being.

“Barra believes GM can leverage its management expertise to increase its global market share this year without altering its existing marketing and sales strategy,” Jeff Bennett reports in the Wall Street Journal. “Its brands accounted for 11.5% of world-wide sales last year, unchanged from 2012."

“We have momentum,” she said. “There is an opportunity to accelerate what we are doing because there are pockets of good things going on and with quick sharing we can strengthen the regions and make sure we manage the brands in a global sense.”

The folks who will drive that momentum are already behind the wheel.

“She said that said GM’s reshuffled leadership team is ‘perfectly aligned’ to carry out the company’s core goals of delivering the best products and achieving profitability in all of its markets,” writes the Detroit Free Press’ Nathan Bomey. “GM’s targets include breaking even in Europe, achieving a 10% profit margin in North America and reaching the 5-million sales mark in China — all by mid-decade.”

The fact that she is the first female CEO of a global automaker has little to do with the task at hand, Barra maintained — nor has it as she moved up the corporate ladder over 33 years as an engineer and former SVP for global product development. 

“There has been a lot of coverage,” she acknowledged, but then said, “I never approached any job from ‘Oh, I’m a woman doing this job.’ My gender doesn’t really factor into my thinking as I come into the room.”

But it still factors into her compensation, according to stories earlier this week. 

“Barra’s base salary is $1.6 million — a full $100,000 less than outgoing CEO Dan Akerson earned in 2012,” The Detroit Bureau’s Paul A. Eisenstein reported, although it could reach as much as $4.4 million if incentives fully kick in. 

“Barra’s new job places her at 26th on the list of the best paid automotive ‘Captains of Industry,’ according to…Automotive News, behind Thomas Lynch, CEO of supplier TE Connectivity, which generated barely 8% of GM’s total revenues in 2013,” Eisenstein writes.

But interest in Barra is also rightfully high for reasons other than her gender. 

“The automaker has been winning praise for vehicles introduced while Barra was product-development chief, including the Chevrolet Impala, Corvette Stingray, Silverado pickup and Cadillac CTS,” points out Bloomberg Businessweek’s Tim Higgins — helping it to emerge from government ownership following its 2009 bankruptcy reorganization. 

“We’re no longer just looking for viability but we’re looking for growth and leadership in the operations that we have around the globe,” Barra said.

One area she has been focusing on is Dan Ammann’s new role as president. He had been CFO. “GM’s regional operations report to Ammann in his new position and he will focus on those markets along with strengthening the company’s brands,” writes Higgins. 

“There’s been this conversation about ‘Is it regions? Is it brands?’ Guess what: It’s both,” Barra told the reporters in asserting that she and Ammann were “perfectly aligned.”

Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas liked what he heard yesterday but was cautious nonetheless about GM’s ability to get the word out about its revived offerings.

“It's probably the right view because GM is still going through a period of discovery of how strong its brands are,” Jonas said, reports Reuters’ Ben Klayman. “GM product has improved, can and will still improve, but will perceptions improve fast enough?” he added. 

“Among her priorities is making GM’s brand messages clear and consistent worldwide,” writes the Associated Press’ Dee-Ann Durbin. “Cadillac has the potential to be a global luxury brand, for example, and Chevrolet needs to make the case that it provides a lot of value to buyers. The new Chevrolet Corvette — a relative bargain with a starting price of $52,000 — is proof of that, she said.”

And it’s not your father’s Chevy Vega, either, just as GM is not quite the paternalistically “bold, confident and even arrogant,” company it used to be. And that’s the real big news.

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