Women at the Helm: Mary Barra, CEO General Motors


“It’s important to surround yourself with people who will challenge you and tell you when and why you are wrong.”
~ Mary Barra

Mary Barra: Moving Forward with A Brand of Connection

One of the most striking examples of personal branding propelling career success can be found in the remarkable journey of Mary Barra, the first female CEO of a major global automaker, General Motors.

Barra’s ascent to the helm of a Fortune 500 company was not by happenstance. It was the fruit of decades of hard work, commitment to innovation, and a personal brand that mirrored these attributes.

A Journey Built on Dedication and Tenacity

Mary Barra began her journey at GM as an 18-year-old co-op student, diving into various engineering and administrative roles. Her dedication, tenacity, and relentless pursuit of knowledge propelled her up the corporate ladder. But it was her personal brand, built around these qualities, that truly set her apart and paved her path to the CEO’s office.

Building a Powerful Personal Brand

Barra’s personal brand is grounded in her deep industry knowledge, forward-thinking approach, and innate ability to connect with employees at every level of the organization. She is not just an executive but a person who understands the ins and outs of the auto industry and the people behind it.

This powerful combination of technical expertise, visionary leadership, and human connection has shaped Barra’s personal brand, making her a respected and trusted figure within and outside GM. It has positioned her as a leader who doesn’t just aim to steer her company to profitability, but one who is committed to shaping the future of the automotive industry.

Impact of Barra’s Personal Brand on Her Career

Barra’s personal brand has played an instrumental role in her career progression. When she took the reins as CEO in 2014, she was not an outside hire brought in to shake things up, but a seasoned insider who had grown within the company. Her deep understanding of GM’s operations, its culture, and her clear vision for its future, reinforced her position as the right leader at a pivotal time.

Moreover, her personal brand also shaped her approach toward crisis management. When faced with the ignition switch crisis early in her tenure, Barra, staying true to her personal brand, took responsibility, empathized with the victims, and made sweeping changes to ensure such mistakes wouldn’t be repeated. This response further strengthened her brand and positioned her as a courageous leader.

The Legacy of Mary Barra’s Personal Branding

Today, Mary Barra is recognized as one of the most powerful women in business. But her legacy goes beyond her corporate success. She has broken the glass ceiling in the auto industry, showing that women can lead in traditionally male-dominated sectors.

Her personal brand continues to shape her career and the future of General Motors. It has guided her decisions, including GM’s pledge to transition to 100% electric vehicles by 2035, cementing her status as a visionary leader committed to innovation and sustainability.

Mary Barra’s journey illustrates the profound impact of personal branding on a leader’s career. It underlines the fact that when authenticity, skills, and vision combine, they form a personal brand that can navigate the path to unprecedented success, even in the most challenging landscapes. Thus, as women leaders, investing in personal branding isn’t just an option; it’s a powerful tool to carve our place and leave a lasting legacy in the corporate world.