By Dow Jones Business News,
December 16, 2013, 07:49:00 AM EDT
By Al Lewis
Mary Barra, the new chief executive of General Motors, was born on Sunday, Dec. 24, 1961, the same day as me.
When you are born on this day, you don't grow up expecting anything to be handed to you. If anyone gives you a gift,
they say, "Here, this is for Christmas and your birthday."
I bet this keeps Ms. Barra humble. Over the past week, she became a powerful symbol of everything GM has done right
since its emergence from bankruptcy in 2009.
She is nothing like the out-of-touch suits who had slowly brought GM to ruin.
Her father worked at GM as a tool-and-die maker. She started working there as an intern 33 years ago.
She earned a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from Kettering University and an M.B.A. from Stanford
University. She led development of the auto maker's new truck line, its seventh-generation Corvette, some retooled
Cadillacs and the 2014 Impala -- all critically acclaimed successes.
GM reported a $4.3 billion profit for the first nine months of this year. Ms. Barra was a key part of the management
But here's a little advice from one 1961-vintage Christmas Eve baby to another:
-- Don't start believing the headlines about GM's turnaround. It wasn't so terribly amazing, given a $49.5 billion
bailout. Additionally, the bankruptcy process allowed GM to ditch tens of billions in debt, shutter rusting plants and
abandon thousands of employees. Most struggling businesses could succeed for a long time if they could get rid of their
-- Remember that car sales have been up because interest rates have been down. Nothing's changed since the 2008
financial crisis -- except fewer people have good-paying jobs. Easy credit is what sells cars.
-- Don't brag about stock performance. GM stock trades around $40, about 21% above its 2010 initial public offering
price. The stock market, since that time, has risen more than 50%.
-- Remember that to many people, GM will always be "Government Motors." The Treasury, which once owned nearly 61% of
GM's stock, recently sold the last of its shares, culminating in a $10.5 billion loss to the taxpayers. When Mitt Romney
was running for president, he called this "crony capitalism."
-- Always be ready to prove that the bailout was worth it. Start with this: The Center for Automotive Research in Ann
Arbor, Mich., released a report last week concluding that the bailout of GM and Chrysler saved 2.6 million jobs and that
a collapse would have cost the government $105 billion in reduced tax and Social Security collections.
-- Market the Chevy Volt as a workingman's Tesla. For all the hype about Tesla, it just makes pricey electric toys for
-- Sell the Corvette as a midlife crisis for people who can't afford Lamborghinis. A more complete package would
include hair-replacement solutions.
-- Advertise the Camaro like this: "You're never too old to drive the car you wished you had in 1969."
-- Don't engage in discussions about women CEOs. It's not productive. No woman could ever screw up GM as much as a
man. Enough said.
-- Correct people who say "she's a car guy." People don't say things like this about men. No one ever said of
Lululemon founder Chip Wilson: "He's a yoga-fashion gal."
-- Remember, you're not special. You are the fifth CEO at GM in four years. And like me, you've probably spent a few
birthdays competing for attention with baby Jesus.
Al Lewis is a columnist based in Denver. He blogs at tellittoal.com; his email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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