Mary Barra at a GM Shareholders meeting

  • CEO Mary Barra has transformed General Motors by cutting unprofitable ventures and investing in the future.
  • Her focus on efficiency and efficacy has driven the decisions she’s made in over 35 years of working at the company.
  • Post-bankruptcy, GM has become consistently profitable, built up a healthy balance sheet, and become a leader in electric and autonomous car technology.

When General Motors CEO Mary Barra was the company’s vice president of global human resources, she thought the company’s dress code was too complicated. So she condensed it to two words: “Dress appropriately.”

It was a simple idea, but not an easy one, as the managers beneath her complained that their employees were taking advantage of the rule change and coming to work in unprofessional attire. In two cases she recounted in 2015, she told the managers to be honest with their employees and tell them about their concerns. Barra wanted her managers to become leaders, not rule enforcers.

“I want them to take ownership of the rules and say, ‘You’re accountable to lead your team,'” she said at the 2015 Catalyst Awards.

The anecdote reveals a lot about Barra’s management style and philosophy, which, broadly, involves figuring out the necessary parts of an operation and removing everything else. She’s done that repeatedly in over three decades of working for GM, where she’s impressed colleagues and analysts with her ability to solve problems.

Barra focused on making GM more efficient as she rose through the company

She started on the factory floor when she was 18, inspecting as many as 60 fender and hood panels per hour, she told Esquire. The job helped pay for her degree in electrical engineering from the General Motors Institute (now called Kettering University). She went back to GM after graduating and was quickly identified as a future management candidate, Read More Here