New Ford CEO Fields Versus General Motors CEO Barra: Operator Versus Bureaucrat

May 7 2014, 5:21am CDT | by

Ford’s new CEO Mark Fields and General MotorsMary Barra both are corporate insiders who have earned their roles over time. Barra has been a functional leader, well honed to manage one of the world’s largest bureaucracies while Field has been an operating general manager, pulling all the functions together to humble General Motors over and over again. Looking down the road, the smart bet is on the operating general manager.

Why? Because functional leaders are all about functional excellence while operators are all about doing what it takes to win. If they can win with excellence, terrific. But they’ll always choose the ugly win over the elegant loss.

Barra is a 33-year GM veteran and the daughter of a 39-year GM veteran. She started working at GM at age 18 and has held increasingly senior positions in engineering, human resources and, most recently product design, purchasing and supply chain.

Fields is a 25-year Ford veteran who has run Ford’s operations in Argentina, Mazda, the Premier Automotive Group and North America. As Forbes’ Joann Muller describes it, Fields’ results have won over her and other doubters along the way.

At the time of GM’s bankruptcy in 2009, Barra was VP of Global Manufacturing Engineering. No way you can blame that bankruptcy on her. As one of her mentors, Gary Cowger said, “she does an amazing job of getting grounded, understanding what’s important and what’s not and executing very well.”

At the same time, Fields was heading up Ford’s North American operations which he turned around from being the company’s biggest money-loser to its biggest money-maker – one of the main reasons Ford was able to stay out of bankruptcy during the financial crisis.

The fundamental question is whether an organization is better off with a CEO known for “executing very well”, or with one known for leading the organization to the right results in the right way.

Implications for Barra

The risk for Barra, assuming she survives GM’s latest ignition recall, is that she will not be able to get GM out of it’s long-term habit of denial. Remember, GM used to have 60% of the US automotive market. They have spent decades either ignoring or not seeing the trends working against them as their market share continues down. To succeed, Barra has to change the culture. This is exactly the same issue that Siemen’s new CEO is facing.

Implications for Fields

Fernando Aguirre, former CEO of Chiquita, once told me that his most important lieutenants were his CFO and head of HR. Because he was an operator himself, he could fill in for his operating heads when they ran into trouble. But he needed particularly strong help in finance and human resources because those were not his strengths. Fields is going to need the same – and should probably start moving in this direction as part of his own new leader’s 100-day action plan.

Leadership Pipeline Steps
/>

Don’t get me wrong. I am in no way downplaying the critical import of strong functional leadership or the value of executing well. I am in no way suggesting that you should not look to your functions when thinking about succession planning. I am suggesting that once you identify rising stars in a function, you should give them operating general management experience to round them out.

Drotter, Noel, and Charan’s Leadership Pipeline identified six key “turn promotions”:

From:

  • managing self through
  • managing others
  • managing managers
  • functional manager
  • business manager
  • group manager to
  • enterprise manager

Barra has essentially jumped from being a functional manager to enterprise manager, skipping the steps of managing a business and group.

Don’t do that to your rising stars. Move them through the steps in order so you produce seasoned enterprise managers and not bureaucratic super-functional managers.

—————————————————

Click here for overview of and links to all The New Leader’s Playbook articles.

 
 

Don't miss ...

 

<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/30" rel="author">Forbes</a>
Forbes is among the most trusted resources for the world's business and investment leaders, providing them the uncompromising commentary, concise analysis, relevant tools and real-time reporting they need to succeed at work, profit from investing and have fun with the rewards of winning.

 

blog comments powered by Disqus

Latest stories

IPad Air Giveaway 2014 is Online
IPad Air Giveaway 2014 is Online
Our sister site I4U News is giving away a brand new iPad Air or if you can wait an iPad Air 2. This is an $499 value.
 
 
Your Parent Or Kid Moved In: Are You Covered?
A record 57 million Americans now live in multigenerational family households — double the number in 1980, according to a new Pew Research Center study. And I bet many of them have the wrong homeowner’s or renters...
 
 
Pandora Looks to Challenge Terrestrial Radio's Dominance in Cars
Pandora Media is one of the largest Internet radio providers in the U.S. with more than 75 million active users. While the company’s active user count has increased at a robust pace historically, it is likely to slow...
 
 
Are General Manager Salaries About To Skyrocket? Will There Be A Front Office Salary Cap?
Are General Manager Salaries About To Skyrocket? Will There Be A Front Office Salary Cap?
It’s January 2026. New York Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner gets out of his driverless car and triumphantly marches before the gathered press to introduce his prized new free agent. It’s a record-breaking contract—over...
 
 
 

Latest from the Network

European Champions League standings
Paris, Oct 22 (IANS) Following are the European Champions League standings for Groups E to H after Tuesday's matches (tabulated under matches played, won, drawn, lost, goals for, against, points), according to Xinhua...
Read more on Sport Balla
 
Rogerio set to break Giggs world record
Rio de Janeiro, Oct 22 (IANS) Sao Paulo goalkeeper Rogerio Ceni is one victory away from earning his fourth Guinness World Record by eclipsing a mark held by Manchester United legend Ryan Giggs. The 41-year-old will...
Read more on Sport Balla
 
Ryan Reynolds can't keep his hands off Blake Lively
Ryan Reynolds was ''really sweet'' to Blake Lively at the Angel City Ball. The couple, who got married in September 2012, made their first red carpet appearance together in New York City on Monday night (10.20.14) since...
Read more on Celebrity Balla
 
Kris Jenner doesn't know who Bruce Jenner is dating
Kris Jenner has ''no idea'' whether Bruce Jenner is dating her best friend. The 58-year-old reality TV star, who split from the Olympic gold medallist last October after 23 years of marriage, claims she doesn't know if...
Read more on Celebrity Balla
 
When Rihanna dressed like 'Harry Potter'
New York, Oct 22 (IANS) Singer Rihanna was spotted here in a Harry Potter style costume. She wore the wizard-like get-up while heading for a business meal here Monday, reports mirror.co.uk. The 26-year-old combined a...
Read more on Celebrity Balla
 
Germany raises humanitarian aid to Iraq
Berlin, Oct 22 (IANS) Germany has pledged a further 20 million euros (about 25.5 million dollars) in humanitarian aid to Iraq, the foreign ministry said in a statement Tuesday. The additional funds are immediately...
Read more on Politics Balla
 
India calls on Israel, Palestine to resume peace process
United Nations, Oct 22 (IANS) India has called upon Israelis and Palestinians to resume the peace process as "dialogue remains the only viable option" to address the issues confronting the region. In a brief statement...
Read more on Politics Balla
 
Airstrikes help ground forces fight IS: Pentagon
Washington, Oct 22 (IANS) Kurdish forces are in control of the majority of the Syrian city of Kobane despite efforts by the Islamic State (IS) to take the town, a spokesperson for US defence department said Tuesday....
Read more on Politics Balla
 
Palestine, Israel urged at UN to halt unilateral initiatives
United Nations, Oct 22 (IANS) UN Secretary-General Ban Ki- moon Tuesday called on Palestine and Israel to overcome differences and halt unilateral initiatives that fuel mistrust, so as to pursue long-term stability in...
Read more on Politics Balla
 
China urges Israel to create conditions for peace
United Nations, Oct 22 (IANS) Chinese government has called on Israel to create necessary conditions for the resumption of peace talks with Palestine. At an open debate of the Security Council on the situation of the...
Read more on Politics Balla