DETROIT - Mary Barra is receiving a lot of attention for her new role as CEO of General Motors, and how she is managing the company's faulty ignition switch recall is being closely scrutinized.
GM is recalling 2.6 million older small cars because the ignition switches can slip from "run" to "accessory" or "off," shutting down the engine. That knocks out power steering and brakes and can cause drivers to lose control and crash. It also disables the air bags.
GM admitted knowing about the ignition switch problem at least a decade ago. Thirteen people have died in crashes linked to the problem, according to GM, although relatives of the victims say the death toll exceeds 30. GM has announced other recalls that pushed the total to near 7 million cars and trucks.
While Barra faces much scrutiny over the company's recalls, she is also receiving a lot of attention as the new CEO. She was the guest of President Barack Obama at his State of the Union Address, Forbes has named her one of the most powerful women in business, she was also named on Time Magazine's 100 most influential people list.
Barra was one of three women honored at the 2014 Women of Achievement and Courage Detroit celebration, an event put on by the Michigan Women's Foundation.
When Barra was presented with her award, the crowd of 800 got to it's feet and applauded her.
Local 4's Carmen Harlan emceed the event and had an opportunity to sit down with Barra.
"I feel, it's a really great privilege to have this honor, but I feel like I'm here representing the men and women of general motors that work so hard every day and I just feel really humbled to lead the team. So, it's great," said Barra.
Harlan also asked about the recall the company faces.
Harlan: "Certainly seeing you now as the CEO, I want you to know the people of Detroit, the women of Detroit, and the state of Michigan are rooting for you, we certainly want to see you succeed, we know it has been kind of a difficult time, how are you holding up?"
Barra: "Well, you know, again, I believe in the company, it's all, you know, you're going to be faced with challenges. So, it's how you deal with them and were dealing with it head on and were going to do what's right, were going to get it fixed and were going to move forward and focus on the customer. And again, I feel honored to represent the men and women of General Motors because I know they're behind me."
Recovery might not have been what Barra had planned for General Motors when she initially took over. Barra said she manages to keep her eye on what's really important because she truly believes in what she is doing.
She has advice for those who might look to her for inspiration.
"I would say first , follow your passion , do what you love," said Barra. "If you're doing what you love, you'll do it better and then do everything like you're going to do it for the rest of your life, every assignment that you have, don't be looking for that next one, be really focused and learn and get a broad, you know broad understanding of the business and that will you know pay dividends as you move on in your career."
She also talked about determination.
"No one's career goes like this, there's up there's downs and again if you stay true to yourself and your working your very best and and have that passion and it will work out because no ones career is a straight line up, there is opportunities that you have to seize and setbacks that you have to recover from," Barra said.
Barra began her career at General Motors in 1980 as a co-op student at the Pontiac Motor Division. She has worked her way up the ranks serving in several engineering and staff positions, executive director of competitive operations engineering, plant manager of the Detroit Hamtramck Assembly, vice president of global manufacturing engineering, vice president of global human resources, senior vice president of global product development and executive vice president of global product development, purchasing and supply chain.
She told Harlan she has learned six leadership lessons throughout her career. Those are lessons she passed on to the graduating class of 2014 when she delivered the commencement address at the University of Michigan last Saturday.
1. No matter what you choose to do in life, pursue with passion and hard work.
2. Conduct yourself with integrity at all times
3. Build relationships
4. Address challenges head on
5. Give something back
6. Remember your family, your friends and your faith.
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