The Alternate Mary Barra Interview

You may recall my recent annoyance with Matt Lauer’s sorry excuse for an “exclusive” interview with General Motors CEO Mary Barra. Barra doesn’t give many interviews, even to the local Detroit press, and Lauer completely muffed his opportunity to ask relevant, meaningful questions of one of the world’s most powerful women, at a crucial time in the history of her company. Now that I think about it, I’m still annoyed.


So I’ve decided to take the bull by the horns and pose the type of questions to Barra that Lauer should have asked. I have no expectation whatsoever that she or anyone at GM will read this or answer these questions, but why not ask them anyway? She deserves better than she got from Lauer.

My Interview Questions to Mary Barra

You have been CEO of General Motors for almost six months.  Setting aside the recalls for the moment, what has been the most unexpected aspect of your new role?

You have spent your entire career at GM. How does your long history with the company affect your leadership style? In what way is it a detriment? A benefit?

Congress has been lambasting the “culture” of GM. You, as much as anyone, have insight into GM’s culture and how it is has evolved over the years. What aspects of the company’s culture do you want to retain? What needs to change? To what extent did this culture cause or contribute to the problems that have come to a head this year?

How does GM move forward from the recall crisis of the last several months? How do you earn back the trust of customers and potential customers? How can a current owner be confident in their GM vehicle?

What steps are you taking to prevent these kinds of safety issues in the future? How will those steps be successful?

Will GM compensate victims whose injuries occurred prior to the 2009 bankruptcy? Why or why not?

Do you believe steps were taken to conceal these issues at the time of the bankruptcy?

What did you learn from the Valukas report? What actions are GM’s leadership team taking in response to the report? Who is being held accountable, and how?

How do you be an effective leader during this challenging time for GM? How do you maintain morale and employees’ pride in the company while balancing the need to make significant changes?

Where do you see GM in 10 years? 20? Where do you see the automotive industry in 10 years? 20?

What role does autonomous driving play in GM’s product planning?

What emerging technologies is GM taking a leadership role in, and why? What are some currently popular automotive technologies and features that you think will be short-lived?

Cadillac has had some recent turmoil in the leadership ranks. What kind of leader does Cadillac need? What do you envision as the future for Cadillac? Is BMW the benchmark?

How does Buick skew younger, and how you do keep it relevant as a brand in the current marketplace?

As EVP of Global Product Development, you said, “No more crappy cars.” What is your assessment of how far GM has come in that regard? What priorities does your product team currently have?

To what do you attribute your rise from entry-level to CEO? Work habits? Particular mentors? A personal philosophy?

You mentioned in an interview once that you always stayed focused on the job you were doing, rather than looking ahead to the next role, the next promotion.  Was it your goal to become CEO? If not, what has been your career goal throughout the years, and how has it changed, if it has?

Like it or not, as the first female CEO of a major auto manufacturer, you have become a role model for women. How can you actively encourage women to pursue leadership roles, both in the corporate world and in general? How can we get more women leaders in the auto industry?

To the extent you ever have downtime, how do you decompress? What do you enjoy doing away from the office?

There is an ongoing discussion about whether “career women” can “have it all.” What are your thoughts? How do you balance work and family? Has it been your observation that this is a more significant issue for women, or do you view this as something both women and men deal with? What advice do you have for those grappling with the work-life balance?


Your move, Matt Lauer.