September 20, 2019
The Monday after last Thanksgiving, Mary Barra, chief executive officer of General Motors Co., announced the automaker’s biggest layoff since its 2009 bankruptcy. Five North American factories were marked for closure. Six thousand hourly jobs in the U.S. and Canada would soon be eliminated, and about 18,000 salaried employees would have until the end of the year to consider a buyout package. GM needed more than a third of the salaried personnel to accept. Fewer than 2,000 did. The remainder would have to be let go, which they were, starting in February.
On March 5, a couple thousand survivors crowded into the atrium of GM’s engineering center in suburban Detroit to hear Barra explain the overhaul at a town hall meeting. Thousands more tuned in via webcast. Barra, a GM lifer who’s been through plenty of similar moments as both boss and underling, told her audience the company is undergoing a wrenching but necessary transition. GM, she said, could no longer invest in slow-selling sedans and small cars or in far-flung markets that weren’t delivering significant profits. That money had to be plowed into electric vehicles and self-driving cars, which she described as the foundation of the company’s future. “We need to seize this opportunity,” she told the silent crowd. “Make no mistake, we are not here just to compete in this new world … we are here to win.”
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