True to her blue-collar roots, General Motors Chief Executive Officer Mary Barra told nearly 10,000 undergraduates from the University of Michigan that hard work can trump talent and encouraged them to remain optimistic about the future.
Barra gave the commencement speech at U-M this past weekend providing the soon-to-be graduates with several pieces of advice.
“Never underestimate the effect that you can have on others in actions large and small,” noted Barra, the first woman to serve as GM’s CEO. Last week, Barra was named one of the 100 “Most Influential” Americans by Time magazine.
Much of the speech focused on how the students should comport themselves in their personal and professional lives once they leave the friendly confines of the institution.
In my experience in school and career, at work and at play there are lots of very talented people out there. But talent alone is not enough, Barra said.
“In every aspect of your life, be honest. Be fair. Keep your promises,” she said. “Do what you know to be right – for your customers, your patients, your clients, your co-workers, your employees, your family, your friends, yourself, but remember that no one does great things alone.”
She noted that success is comes from teamwork. Leading a team requires respect and trust and openness, transparency, inclusion and good listening skills are the key. She quoted Bo Schembechler, Michigan’s iconic football coach, to make her point.
“If you do not like people, you will not take the time to get to know them, and if you don’t get to know them, you will have no idea what scares them, what inspires them, what motivates them,” she said.
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She encouraged the students to tackle problems head on and to do so expediently.
“Remember that hope is not a strategy. And problems don’t go away when you ignore them – they get bigger,” said Barra, who was engulfed in a controversy over ignition switches.
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Barra also noted the “Millennial Generation” is the largest, richest, most technologically advanced generation in American history, adding she believes they are also the most inclusive and probably the most optimistic.
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“Use these traits… along with the unprecedented access to information and global communication that we have today… to challenge convention,” she said. “More than any generation in history, you have the power to expose and correct injustice, to rethink outdated assumptions, and to make a difference.”