Skip to navigationSkip to content

What embattled General Motors CEO Mary Barra told students about handling a crisis

General Motors CEO Mary Barra
AP/Carlos Osorio
Advice for how to handle a crisis, from someone in one.
This article is more than 2 years old.

General Motors CEO Mary Barra has been in crisis management mode for months after a faulty ignition switch led to several deaths and a large car recall. On Saturday, she told University of Michigan graduates that the only way to deal with a problem like that is to address it head on.

Barra didn’t directly reference the GM recall, but gave some closely related advice in her speech:

And remember, hope is not a strategy. Problems don’t go away when you ignore them, they get bigger.

GM knew about the defect for over a decade, but did not start recalling affected cars until February. Barra told a congressional committee she found out in December.

Right now, Barra is using the company’s crisis to attempt to make significant changes (paywall) to a GM management culture that allowed the defects in the first place, changing up her executive team and updating the company’s structure.

Two student groups had asked that the school rescind their invitation for Barra to speak due to the delayed recall. Unlike former US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice at Rutgers, Barra gave her speech despite the potential controversy, though there were no protests in this case.

Here’s the speech in full. The portion where Barra starts to share advice for graduates starts 4 minutes and 50 seconds in:

📬 Kick off each morning with coffee and the Daily Brief (BYO coffee).

By providing your email, you agree to the Quartz Privacy Policy.