By STEVEN N. LARKIN
The finale at the annual National Automobile Dealers Association show recently held in Las Vegas, Nevada, was a face-to-face sit down chat with 2019 NADA Chairman Charlie Gilcrest and Mary Barra, General Motors chief executive officer. Gilcrest’s demeanor, which can be business-aggressive, was rather uplifting and down home in his candid discussion with Barra. Gilcrest is a legend himself in the automotive business located in Southwestern Texas, which is family owned and has a stellar reputation of doing more than just selling cars. He is known for building relationships with his customers for over 35 years.
Usually on the last day of your average convention, most participants are ready to head to the airport and bust a move to get out of town. However over 300 attendants made sure that they were on hand to get some wisdom from the young lady, who runs one of the largest automotive companies in the world, Barra. Barra’s is not new to the car business, and the entire audience was on the edge of their seats to learn from a woman who is unlike anyone in the automotive biz! Barra came across as smart and honest. She talked so matter-of-factly that everyone in attendance became comfortable when she talked about life and the challenges of being the first female CEO of a leading automotive company.
Barra started off talking about her entry into the automobile business at the age of 18 as an intern for GM working on the assembly line, where she witnessed firsthand what it means to have pride in your work. The experience to be around workers, who are taking care of spouses and children showed Mrs. Barra in indelible ways how important it is to take pride in the production of your work.
Without a doubt her success can be attributed to her upbringing. She shared the importance of the values her parents instilled in her. Her father, Ray, worked at GM in the Pontiac division in Detroit for 39 years. Despite not going to college, he was a natural engineer and just as smart as his supervisor, was not only well respected but inspired Mary to be the best person she could dream to be. While her Mother believed in the importance of getting Mary and her brother a college education. She graduated from the General Motors Institute with a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering. She went on to Stanford to earn a Masters Degree in business administration. Barra said the family and good friends are essential in keeping her happy, while maintaining a heavy workload. Being around family and good friends also provides her an opportunity to relax and think.
The room full of automotive dealers continued to listen to her exchange with Gilcrest as she talked about the challenges that dealers are facing in this ever-changing world. She went on to share that because of the extra little things that dealers do, she receives and reads a lot of mail from customers complimenting the extra touch that makes a “customer for life.” She described how GM is taking great pride with an extra focus on electric cars and the future of the automotive industry. Barra also emphasized the benefits of diversity and that GM is constantly looking for more ways to be more inclusive in employment and proving opportunities for new dealerships. Barra told the auditorium, “The bottom line will result in higher profit margins and a better work atmosphere.” She made a heartfelt point when she thanked the dealers for everything that they do to help customers, their employees and the American economy.
Little things with a touch of honesty still mean a lot as GM continues to lead the industry. The NADA represents about 16,500 new-car and -truck dealerships, with both domestic and international franchises.