GM CEO Mary Barra says lessons learned on her first job help her lead the company today

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Mary Barra is a lifer.

The General Motors CEO has spent her entire professional career at the automaker — and told the Milken Institute Global Conference in Los Angeles on Monday that things she learned on her first job inform her leadership of the company today.

GM CEO Mary Barra spoke at the 2022 Milken Institute Global Conference on Monday, May 2, 2022.  (Milken Institute)

"I grew up in manufacturing. My first job at General Motors as a college co-op student was on the assembly line," she said.

Barra was a quality control officer at a factory that produced Pontiac Grand Prix cars.

She says she’s proud of GM’s manufacturing capability, which she thinks gives it an advantage over startups as it transitions into the electric vehicle space.

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"I talk about one of our secret assets in the company that people aren’t valuing is the fact that in the United States alone, we have 45,000 manufacturing employees that come to work every day, work really hard and build our products or our components," she said.

"We’re not out in this job market trying to bring people in and do that work. We have them — and that’s why we’re converting plant after plant [to electric vehicle production] on time."

Cadillac Lyriq production is underway at GM’s Spring Hill, Tenn., factory. (Cadillac)

Barra also trumpeted her team’s ability to launch several vehicles on schedule, including the Cadillac Lyriq that’s being produced at the Spring Hill, Tenn., factory that once produced Saturn cars, despite the challenges of the pandemic.

"There are a lot of assets that a company like GM brings to this EV transformation," she said.

GM is in the process of simplifying the types of chips its vehicles need to help create an even more resilient supply chain.

Barra acknowledged the continuing headwinds of parts supply issues, especially semiconductor chips, GM and the industry faces — but said that steps are being taken to minimize its impact, which she expects to continue into 2023.

Along with engaging new suppliers, GM is in the process of simplifying the types of chips its vehicles need to help create an even more resilient supply chain.

"We’re going to standardize on three families of semiconductors and kind of dictate what semis go into our vehicles," she explained.

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"It’ll give us higher scale. We’ll be leveraging the latest technology from a semiconductor perspective."

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