Posts Tagged ‘Mary Barra’

Mary Barra and the Spoken Word: Her First Test

Recalled Cobalt

Recalled Cobalt

Well, that honeymoon didn’t last long. Less than two months into her new job as CEO of GM, Mary Barra is face-to-face with a huge crisis:  GM has admitted that the company knew for more than a decade about a defective ignition problem that cost motorists their lives, but it began recalling vehicles only in the past month.

Barra has yet to give a speech about the problem, but she took on the crisis in a short video to GM employees, and has given a press conference. (She is due to testify before Congress soon.)

She did a pretty good job in those early remarks. In the video, she made very clear that she understood how serious the problem is. “Terrible things happened,” she said. And she got personal, saying that the loss of life “hits home to me as a mother.”

She also said that, while GM had apologized,  she knew that was just a first step. In her press conference she added, “I take full responsibility for the work going forward. Our goal is something like this never happens again.”

To be sure, she never quite said, “This is GM’s fault. We did wrong, and we’re going to fix it.” I suspect that’s because of influence of company lawyers.

Still, she’s made a good start. I hope she gives a major speech, and keeps moving in the right direction.

But Can Mary Barra Give a Great Speech?

GM CEO Mary Barra

GM CEO Mary Barra

Very exciting news out of Detroit that General Motors has chosen Mary Barra as its new CEO, making her the first woman to head an automaker. The reaction to Barra’s appointment has been enthusiastic, with almost every analyst making the point that Barra has done a terrific job as a GM executive, and should be a great CEO.

Having taken a look at a couple of her speeches, I’d add that she has the potential to be excellent at one of a CEO’s most important roles – using speeches and presentations to engage critical audiences (internal and external). For example, give a listen to her commencement speech at Kettering University (formerly GM Institute), from which she graduated in 1985. She connects with the new graduates in the audience well– praising their Millennial generation, while also gently teasing them about short attention spans and devotion to social media.

She also shares some personal stuff very effectively: She talks about her own time at Kettering (and pokes fun her generation’s technological backwardness), and she mentions her own teen-age kids, saying she’s learned a lot about Millennials from them.

All great stuff. Unfortunately, when she comes to the five pieces of advice she wants to share with the new graduates, they are the fairly standard exhortations you can hear from almost any commencement speaker: “Hard work beats talent if talent doesn’t work hard” … “Address challenges head-on”… “Change the world” …and so on.

Still, I know how hard it is to say anything fresh in one of these speeches. I hope she continues to connect with audiences, use humor effectively, and share some of her personal story. If she does, I’m betting she’ll be one of the best CEOs at using the spoken word powerfully and effectively.