General Motors CEO Mary Barra addresses the media during a roundtable meeting with journalists in Detroit. (Carlos Osorio / Associated Press)
General Motors Co. new CEO Mary Barra told reporters Thursday she hopes to accelerate strategies and is keeping goals laid out under former Chairman and CEO Dan Akerson, such as breaking even in Europe and hitting 10 percent margins in North America by mid-decade.
“There’s no right turns here, right or left turns here,” she said. “We have momentum. We have a strategy. It’s centered around designing, building and selling the world’s best vehicles.”
Barra, who took over the top job for the Detroit automaker on Jan. 15, told reporters in a 51-minute interview at GM’s Renaissance Center headquarters that she wants to continue to win with products and to foster and grow innovation.
She led a two-day leadership meeting Tuesday and Wednesday with the company’s top 300 leaders. They talked about maintaining the company’s momentum, growing brands and GM’snew leadership structure. They spent three hours discussing innovation, which Barra wants to see more of, big and small.
“My personal definition of innovating is something that adds value and delights the customer,” she said, adding innovation includes things such as including a step in the bumper of a pickup, ensuring a rear windshield wiper turns on in the rain — or even how the company supports dealers.
The 33-year GM employee, who is the auto industry’s first female CEO, said GM’sleadership team is aligned. GM’s new President Dan Ammann, who reports to Barra, will focus on bringing together the regions and building brands.
“There is an opportunity we feel to accelerate what we’re doing,” she said. “There are good pockets of what’s going on. If we can just make sure that there’s quick sharing, we think we can strengthen the regions and make sure we manage the brands in a global sense.”
Barra said there will be consistent messages coming from she and Ammann, and that there will be no “good cop, bad cop.”
On Thursday, analyst Adam Jonas, in an investment note, said Morgan Stanley was cutting its 2014 profit and earnings per share estimates for GM following the company’s guidance last week. Several analysts have lowered estimates for GM in 2014.
Morgan Stanley said it now thinks GM’s adjusted earnings before interest and taxes will total about $10 billion this year, down from $11.4 billion due to lower earnings expected from GM’s International Operations, North America and Europe.
GM will continue to invest in the business across the globe as it works to continue to grow Chevrolet and Cadillac, will work to operate profitably in every region it does business and will maintain a strong balance sheet and return capital to shareholders, Barra said.
The company exited government ownership in December, following its nearly $50 billion taxpayer bailout. Since 2009, GM has announced more than $10 billion in investments to U.S. plants and created new jobs. She said public perception varies, but the majority of people have a favorable opinion about GM.
“I think that people recognize that there is an important role that General Motors is playing,” she said. “But at the end of the day, I don’t expect to get any free passes. It’s going to be how strong are our products, and how strong are our brands, and what value we bring to the customer.”
GM wants to boost profits and get profitable in some areas of GM’s Consolidated International Operations — international markets with the exception of China — where some countries are seeing economic changes and where GM is feeling currency pressure, she said. In December, GM announced it will end manufacturing in Australia and that it will stop selling most Chevrolets in Europe, which will impact production capacity in Korea.
The company also wants to grow sales in China, its largest market, including with Cadillac and Chevrolet vehicles. Barra said Chevy has more good offerings coming, but didn’t provide details.
GM also will continue to focus on providing exceptional customer service, Barra said. She said a pilot program that brought engineers into U.S. dealerships the past year for weeks at a time to learn about customer expectations will go global.
Collaboration and teamwork will continue to be part of Barra’s strategy.
“I think we get to better decisions when we can capture the knowledge and experience and insights and judgments of a global team,” said Barra, who started her career as a co-op student at 18 while at the General Motors Institute and most recently served as GM’s head of global product development, purchasing and supply chain. “And I think we get to better decisions when we do that.”
Energized for her new role, Barra talked about her work ethic that stems from her late parents who grew up in the Depression-era. Her father, Ray, worked as a die maker for GM.
Barra who said she wants to be valued for leading the team and achieving results, said she understands the mediaattention around her appointmentand hopes to inspire more young people to look at careers in engineering and to study math and science.
“I never approach any assignment, ‘Oh, I’m a woman,’ ” she said. “My gender doesn’t really factor into my thinking.”