GM’s Mary Barra to Speak at Stanford GSB Commencement 2016 |

GM’s Mary Barra to Speak at Stanford GSB Commencement 2016

By Tim Dhoul

Updated July 3, 2019 Updated July 3, 2019

One of the world’s most high-profile female CEOs is to return to address this year’s MBA graduates at her alma mater, Stanford GSB.

Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors (GM) since 2014 and chairman of the Fortune 500 company’s board as of January 2016, was already with GM before receiving a company fellowship to undertake her MBA at Stanford GSB, from which she graduated in 1990. Since then, she has risen through the ranks at the automotive giant, taking responsibility for product development before being appointed CEO. Barra was named at the pinnacle of Fortune magazine’s ‘50 Most Powerful Women in Business’ last year, ahead of Yale SOM graduate and PepsiCo CEO, Indra Nooyi.

Stanford GSB dean praises ‘transformative leadership’

Stanford GSB, which decided to call on alumni to motivate its latest crops of MBA graduates back in 2010, is understandably delighted to be welcoming Mary Barra back to campus this coming June:

“Mary’s commitment in skillfully guiding GM through challenges past and present exemplifies her strength in transformative leadership. Her accomplishments are inspiring, and I am pleased she will share her perspectives with our graduates on what it takes to adapt, lead and thrive in today’s global economy,” said Garth Saloner, Stanford GSB’s dean.

Graduation (commencement) is a big event in the US and leading schools will always look to bring in a business leader with the ability to challenge an audience of high potential individuals with their words. Last year, for example, the Wharton School, enlisted the services of two recent MBA graduates responsible for launching a startup with a tilt towards social responsibility – tapping into two business trends simultaneously. However, big names in the world of business are also common sights on commencement day, with past examples including Sheryl Sandberg at Harvard and Steve Ballmer at USC Marshall.

Mary Barra’s management approach

So, what can Stanford’s MBA class of 2016 expect from Mary Barra? Well, we know she believes in hard work and a collaborative approach from a handy compendium of past interviews compiled by the school. But, as a member of the Stanford GSB Advisory Council, she has already passed on management lessons learnt during her career to some students of the school.

Shortly after Mary Barra became GM’s CEO she advised MBA students that company values, while important, are no good if the company can’t demonstrate that they embody them: "If you put some words on a banner, you put them on a poster, you email them, but you don't live them, your people will know, and they won't be all in.” She also warned students that it’s not wise to delay difficult decisions: “When I talk to my team now, I say, 'If you have a problem, let's solve it now, because I promise you in six months it will be bigger.' In fact, in two years, it might be gone, because likely your company will be gone.”

This article was originally published in February 2016 . It was last updated in July 2019

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Written by

Tim is a writer with a background in consumer journalism and charity communications. He trained as a journalist in the UK and holds degrees in history (BA) and Latin American studies (MA).


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