It’s no surprise that a woman — Mary Barra — has led General Motors to great success, clocking in revenue of $157 billion last year alone.
This was the intention more than 30 years ago when the company recognized the need to develop a diverse and powerful workforce. It was clear that to be competitive, they would need all people, not just the traditional white males who were drawn to a career in automotive. They created formal and informal career pathways for all employees to achieve their personal best at GM.
It’s easy to look at GM’s success and think, there’s no way we can replicate that — GM is a huge multinational company, and we are just a [fill in the blank].
But look more closely: your challenges and opportunities are more similar than you think. So are the solutions.
Where Are You Going, and Who is Getting You There?
I like to joke that work keeps me from doing my job — but it’s so very true: if you’re not actively planning for your business in the next five, 10, 20 years, building a development plan for who those leaders will be and how they will continue to grow your company, you’re failing yourself, your team and your company’s future.
Several years ago, Hyundai took just such a step. After multiple presidents who served short two-year stints, the company realized that it needed a stronger, more empowered leadership structure. José Muñoz was brought in to run not just the North American region — the company’s most profitable — but also to serve as global COO. The first thing he did? Surround himself with smart, hardworking executives with a diverse set of perspectives and skills. And, he made it clear that diversity is not just a popular goal, but an operational value that is critical to success.
In a very authentic and organic way, Muñoz diversified the company’s leadership: Claudia Marquez was hired to first run Hyundai Mexico and then Genesis North America. Olabisi Boyle came to Hyundai from Visa and prior to that, Ford. Angela Zepeda was brought in from the company’s ad agency to run marketing. Randy Parker was brought in from Nissan to run sales.
Within a few short years, Muñoz and his team were able to take Hyundai to more than 10% market share, something that hardly seemed possible just a decade ago.
Are You Asking — and Answering Honestly — the Hard Questions?
Understanding your challenges and weaknesses is always the first step to setting and attaining goals. I hear it all the time: “We can’t hire women,” or “We hire women but they leave,” or “We want a diverse team but we don’t get applications from women or minorities.”
Why is this?
That was the question that Liza Borches, CEO of Carter Myers Automotive, had to ask herself and her team. They struggled to hire people, she said. They posted job listings everywhere, highlighting the skills they were looking for, the experience they sought.
And time and again, they got paltry responses and almost none from the diverse demographic groups they wanted to hire, those who reflect the Carter Myers customer.
Soon, Liza said, they realized they were highlighting the wrong things. So, they pivoted to tout the things their ideal candidates would value: new skills, a career path, personal growth. Liza and her team were willing to teach and train people who wanted those things, and when they promoted that idea rather than the basics of the job, responses from potential candidates began pouring in.
What Isn’t Working, and Why?
Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome is the definition of insanity, Albert Einstein said famously.
So, when something isn’t working, or isn’t working as well as you’d like, understanding why is the path to knowing what you need to do differently.
This is where Bill Ford found himself not long ago; charged with leading his great-grandfather’s company to its next era, he had to understand what that was and how to get there.
The company was rolling out innovative cars focused on electrification and autonomous driving, loading the Fusion and other models with tons of technology. And while these models sold, they were not the rain makers; those were the brand’s more iconic heritage brands: Mustang, F-150, Explorer.
The company was doing well enough with its popular models to fund the other projects, though the question was asked a lot: was selling value-focused small cars really the key to the company’s future?
But what if all the company’s brands were rain makers? A new strategy was born. Slow-selling sedans and budget hatchbacks were phased out, and now Ford is known for its passion and lifestyle cars, trucks and SUVs.
They’ve also become known for the diverse team that led this charge: Joy Filotico and now Dianne Craig, former and current president of Lincoln and leading the brand’s reinvention; Linda Zhang, chief engineer of the Ford F-150 Lightning; Jolanta Coffey, chief engineer of the Ford Bronco; Donna Dickson, chief engineer of the Mustang Mach-E.
Change is Hard, but it Beats the Alternative
No one wants to be the one to turn out the lights on a once-successful business. We’d all rather have Champagne-popping celebrations, and we want to deserve them.
While it’s easy to plop down $100 for a nice bottle of bubbly, it’s much more difficult to earn the right to pop the cork. That means understanding what we need to accomplish, why we need to do it, how we get there and who will take us. And then putting those plans in place for the long haul.
It’s up to us to take that first step: committing to the job that needs to be done.
And then, raise a glass!
I invite each of you to join me at the upcoming Women In Automotive Annual Conference on May 15-18, 2024, at the Cheyenne Mountain Resort in Colorado Springs, Colorado,
where we will be championing change in the automotive industry.