Mary, Mary – Quite Contrary

OK, so I was wrong. I thought she was toast. But, contrary to expectations, my own and those of many others, she has succeeded. She has succeed very well, thank you, and under difficult circumstances.

In the immediate wake of Mary Barra’s appointment as Chief Executive Officer of General Motors, the car company faced the gravest safety crisis in its long and storied history.* It’s why Barra was thought on a so-called glass cliff – a woman appointed Chief Executive Officer precisely because the company was in trouble, vulnerable not only to a downturn but even a crisis of confidence.

For all I know she was. For all I know Barra did get to the top of the greasy pole because her chances of failure were especially high. But, she proved us numberless naysayers wrong! General Motors announced on Monday that in addition to being Chief Executive Officer, Mary Barra would henceforth serve as Chairwoman of the Board.

Not half bad for a former plant manager. Not half bad for a past crisis manager. Not half bad for a woman seemingly teetering on cliff made of glass. How Barra succeeded against high odds will be the subject of countless case studies, most of which will focus on her in particular. I would argue though that the explanation for her duration has less to do with her and more to do with the context, which was conducive to car-buying; and more also to do with others, especially GM’s customers who were prepared to keep buying in spite of the company’s stained reputation.

Still Mary Barra’s mettle was tested and it turned out she is the real deal. She is a leader.


*Millions of small GM cars were sold with defective ignition switches. While precisely who was culpable remains uncertain, what is certain is that 124 deaths have been tied to the defect. Ultimately the company agreed to create a compensation fund, which awarded some $600 million in damages to some 400 people.




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