GM CEO Mary Barra reveals what she wishes she’d known in her 20s

Mary barra
GM CEO Mary Barra. Bill Pugliano/Getty

When Mary Barra became the CEO of General Motors in January 2014, she became the first woman to lead a major automaker.

Breaking the glass ceiling, however, was far less nerve-wracking than trying to reinvent post-bailout GM.

Just months into the role of chief executive, Barra was tasked with leading her company through a federal investigation regarding a faulty ignition switch in cars. Despite having to issue 84 recalls involving 30 million vehicles, she led GM to a record sales year.

At the 2015 Catalyst Awards, honouring progressive gender initiatives in American corporations, Barra spoke with Catalyst president and CEO Deborah Gillis about her career and leadership philosophy.

When asked by an audience member what she would tell herself at the beginning of her career if she had the chance, Barra explained that it would be to embrace fear rather than run from it.

“Some of the best learning opportunities I’ve had in my career are when I initially went, ‘You want me to do what?’ or, ‘You want me to do this role?'” she said.

According to Barra, a pang of fear that arises when you’re given a challenging opportunity in your career is a good sign. See it as a motivator, not an impediment to progress.

“Seize the opportunity because you’ll learn so much,” Barra said. “And it’s going to give you such a foundation to move on.”

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