Moxie isn’t just a one-time flash of brilliance. It’s a long, slow, sustained burn, kindled over time.
That’s evident in the leadership of Mary Barra, the first woman to serve as chairman and CEO of a major global automaker. As the leader of General Motors, Barra has exhibited a steady, laser-like focus on transforming the company into one that delivers up value to every stakeholder.
It’s a long play. Moving from a culture that chased sales volume and market share to a culture that delivers on profitability takes a long time and a lot of work. It makes sense that Barra would go for the long play, though; her whole life has been shaped by the auto industry. Barra grew up in the shadow of the auto industry. Her father was a die maker for GM. She joined the company at the tender age of 18 as an intern, and steadily worked her way up the ranks. She didn’t necessarily set out with her eye on the C-Suite, but her long-term investment in GM set her on the path.
Some observations from Barra’s life and career:
People with moxie live with gratitude.
It’s clear that Barra recognizes that her success has been possible because other people have invested in her.
“I do sit here today because there were people 20 years ago who gave me career opportunities and gave me constructive feedback and allowed me to grow and took risks on me with the jobs they put me in,” Barra told the Detroit Free Press in an interview.
Barra is returning the favor, too. She’s an avid supporter of Girls Who Code, a program aimed at encouraging middle and high school girls to embrace computer science.
People with moxie appreciate those to help them along the way, and live out their gratitude by helping others.
People with moxie live their values, especially when it is tough.
Barra’s mantra has been “customers first” coupled with generating profit for shareholders. She’s shifted focus away from being the biggest to being the best. The idea is that it is ok to sell fewer cars, and focus on maximizing profit over volume.
That means quality and trust have to be central to the product, and GM must focus on building strong relationships with customers and other stakeholders.
That trust and those relationships were seriously threatened when it was revealed that an employee had hidden problems with a dangerously faulty ignition switch for years.
Barra led GM to face the problem head on, with honesty and transparency. They moved rapidly to recall the replace the defective parts, and put processes in place to avoid future missteps.
People with moxie choose value over volume.
For years, GM chased sales leadership. Now it’s chasing relationships. Barra says GM wins when it becomes the most valued auto producer in the world. What does that mean?
“It means most valued by all the stakeholders we partner with to do business, whether it’s our suppliers, dealers, employees, unions or the communities where we do business,” she said. “It means suppliers bring their best technology to us first. Employees want to work here. Dealers focus on our brands.
“All of that creates the most value, which then allows us to have the right return for our shareholders.”
That’s a deeper, richer investment that simply trying to move units, and it creates a different type of relationship. Relationships based on value must be based on integrity and quality. It takes longer to cultivate value than it does to meet sales goals. Value says, “I don’t just want to sell you something today, I want you to choose to buy something from me tomorrow, too.”
The results of Barra’s leadership will play out over the years to come. Where do you see GM in three years? In five years?