GM Puts Woman in the Driver’s Seat
By APICS CEO Abe Eshkenazi, CSCP, CPA, CAE
Tuesday, General Motors named Mary Barra as chief executive, making her one of only 23 women to head Fortune 500 companies. According to the Washington Post, this appointment also makes Barra “the first woman to rise to the top of the male-dominated world of US auto manufacturing.”
Barra began her career at GM in 1980, and since then, she has held a number of positions in manufacturing, engineering, and senior staff. Most recently, Barra had been executive vice president, global product development and global purchasing and supply chain.
In a press release, GM reports that Barra is a leader in the company’s ongoing turnaround, revitalizing GM’s product development process resulting in the launch of critically acclaimed new products while delivering record product quality ratings and higher customer satisfaction.
Examining the media stories, you can start to see why the Barra appointment is still making news days later. “It indicates the openness of even the most traditional corporations to look for leadership from all sources, including from women,” said Marcia D. Greenberger, copresident of the National Women’s Law Center, in the Washington Post. “I think it is particularly heartening to see a corporation like GM do that, not because of the traditional image we have of the male CEO at car companies, but also because of its global reach.”
According to Catalyst, a research organization focused on women in business, only 24.2 percent of jobs in the motor vehicles and motor vehicles equipment manufacturing industry in 2012 were held by women. Further, only 11.5 percent of corporate officers in this industry are women.
Barra’s appointment also comes the same week as the US federal government announcing the sale of its final GM shares, which during the worldwide financial crisis kept the corporation from folding. According to the Washington Post, “the company has emerged leaner and highly profitable in the years since.”
Changing the dynamic
It’s clear why the news is focused on Barra’s gender—because it’s still uncommon to have a woman in that kind of leadership position. But to us at APICS, it’s also interesting to note Barra’s past position as the head of the corporation’s supply chain. Together with its partners, GM produces vehicles in 30 countries.
I think Barra’s meteoric rise, including as head of supply chain, indicates company leaders are catching on to something we in supply chain and operations management have known for a long time: Supply chain is a strategic advantage for corporate success. Likewise, bringing supply chain knowledge into the c-suite is beneficial.
Consider one of the talents for which Barra is praised in the GM press release—delivering high quality ratings. In the APICS Operations Management Body of Knowledge (OMBOK) Framework, quality is defined as follows: “Quality has two major components: quality of conformance, or the quality defined by the absence of defects; and the quality of design, or the quality measured by the degree of customer satisfaction with a product’s characteristics and features.”
Of course, bringing together a diverse team of employees is vitally important to business success. That’s a topic we explored during the World Café and the Women in Supply Chain panel at APICS 2013. We continue to study this topic to see how we can encourage a diverse workforce in supply chain and operations management.
With all of this in mind, are you able to connect your everyday tasks to the success of your organization and, ultimately, your career? APICS can help you make those connections and advance your organization. Visit apics.org to see how you can get started.