Case Study 1 Homegrown Talent: Mary Barra Rises to GM’s Top Post



Case Study 1 Homegrown Talent: Mary Barra Rises to GM’s Top Post


When Mary Barra was a kid, she used to hang out in the garage with her dad tinkering on cars. Little did her father, a lifelong die-maker for GM’s Pontiac division, know that his daughter would one day become the CEO of the company and the first woman ever to lead a major U.S. car manufacturer. But that’s what happened in 2013. Barra was unanimously chosen by the board members of General Motors to lead the company—a decision employees cheered when they heard about it over the loudspeakers at corporate headquarters. Maybe they cheered because unlike GM’s previous two CEOs, Barra was one of them. Having worked in multiple departments at GM since she was 18, she knows the car business through and through. “There’s nobody with more years of honest ‘car guy’ credentials than she has,” says Ross Gordon in the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. Barra, who grew up in a Detroit suburb, initially began working for GM in the 1980s as part of a work–study program. In a work–study program, which is also referred to as a co-op program, students alternate working full time (for pay) and going to college. She earned an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering and GM later sent her to Stanford, where she got an MBA. During her career she has rotated through various positions at GM. Besides working in engineering and design, she managed one GM’s manufacturing plants and most recently was the senior vice president for global product development and quality control. Under her watch, the company has rolled out successful models that have helped bring the company back out of bankruptcy. Barra has a reputation for getting results. Not only does she know cars, she knows people and how to manage them. When an updated version of the Chevy Malibu floundered in 2012 because of design and other problems, she mobilized a team of employees and found a way to fix the Malibu in record time. Her great people management skills might explain why when GM was going through bankruptcy; she was put in charge of human resources for GM, an area she had never worked in before. GM hoped putting her in job would prevent key talent from heading for the exits during the bankruptcy process. It did. Sue Meisinger, formerly the president and CEO of the Society of Human Resources Management, says that Barras being named CEO underscores the importance of HR personnel working in and understanding different areas of their firms. “If you’re interested in a career path that extends beyond HR, you need to have experience in multiple facets of the business,” Meisinger says. She notes that for many HR professionals, their crowning achievement is to be the head of HR. Barra’s rise to CEO, however, will have many of these professionals shifting their career goals.



Questions 1. Because Mary Barra’s father also worked at General Motors, was her hiring an example of nepotism? If you were a business owner, would you want to hire relatives of your employees? What would the pros and cons of doing so be?

2. What role did Mary Barra play in advancing her career? What role did GM play in “growing” her career?


Sources: Dee Ann Durbin and Tom Krisher,“Barra Inherits a Stronger GM,”Associated Press (December 29, 2013):; Dee Ann Durbin and Tom Krisher,“GM Picks Woman CEO,”Associated Press (December 29, 2013):; Chris Woodyard,“Who Is Mary Barra, the Next CEO of GM?”USA Today (December 10, 2013);

www; Mary Pyrillis, “Mary Barra, General Motors’Next CEO Breaks Ground for Women and HR,”Workforce (December 11, 2013),





Case Study 2 Loews Hotels: Training for Four-Diamond Service and More


Most people expect to receive great service at fourdiamond hotels. But that’s not good enough for Loews. The New-York based hotel chain, which has properties in 16 cities across the United States and Canada, tries to “wow” every one of its guests with high-quality accommodations, impressive surroundings, personalized service, and thoughtful amenities for a luxurious experience. A key element of Loews’ success is the extensive training it provides its employees. Annually, it spent more than 50,000 hours training its employees. Whether they work at the front desk, as housekeepers, accountants, or marketing managers, they learn about the big-picture goals of the company and how the quality of service differentiates one company from another in the hotel business. “The key is to train all departments of your organization to be customercentric,” says Jon Tisch, the company’s chairman. “Thinking about customers can’t be left to marketing and sales alone. Manufacturing, R&D, strategy, management, all have to be focused on the needs and desires of the customer.” Customer-facing employees at Loews undergo classroom training, including role-playing and simulations to learn how to deal with customers. “Living Loews,” a two-day training program, teaches employees not only the finer points of etiquette but how to really sell the Loews experience—even when things go wrong. “Part of this training deals with how to handle pressure, which is something employees in any industry are bound to face. We’re all human, so mistakes can happen,” Tisch explains. “But when they do, we train our coworkers to impress our guests with an extraordinary recovery that we hope they’ll remember even more.” Training sessions such as “Green” training, “Loews Meeting Experience,” “Loews Pool Concierge” program, “Spa 101,” and the “YouFirst” guest loyalty program ensure that customers of all types who use the hotel’s various services get top-notch service. The training does not end with the sessions, though. Once it is over, training managers go out on the front lines to do spot checks and offer feedback to employees to make sure the training really “sticks.” A train-the-trainer program and other managerial workshops such as “Communicating Loews” help managers promote the hotel brand and inspire their employees to do so as well. A comprehensive executive training program covers topics ranging from communication and salesmanship to public speaking and presentation skills. Loews also tries to “grow” its own talent. Its highpotential program offers additional training, development planning, and extra opportunities to employees who show promise. Most training managers, for example, are promoted from line-level jobs or from operations, so they know the company’s processes and culture firsthand. The company also has a tuition assistance program. To recruit undergraduates, Loews offers paid summer internships that allow students to work in a variety of areas such as the rooms division, food and beverage department, sales and marketing, and human resources. Each intern is assigned a mentor and given opportunities to network by attending operational meetings. At the conclusion of their internships they complete a report on their experience. Successive year internships give them exposure to additional functional areas, project work, supervisory experience, and ultimately the opportunity to join the company’s management training program. So successful is the training at Loews that even trainers are impressed. Douglas Kennedy, the founder and president of the Kennedy Training Network, which specializes in hospitality training, says he was knocked out by his experience while conducting training at Loews’s various properties. “I have never received more genuine, authentic welcome notes with my amenities, which were always a welcome treat after a long day of training and an evening of travel. Each note was personally written, and not just the standard ‘welcome to our hotel, hope you enjoy your stay’ messages. I also got to indulge in the supremely comfortable guest rooms and enjoy uniquely local dining options, décor, and overall hotel ambiance,” Kennedy says. “I have to say I’ve become a bit spoiled now by all this, and I’m sure it will be a rude awakening next month when I return to staying in more typical upscale hotels.”


Questions 1. How do Loews’s training programs relate to the company’s business strategy?

2. Why does the company encourage its employees to focus on the customers’ needs versus other metrics?


Sources: Amy Bertrand, “Luxury Hotel Trends to Watch,” St. Louis Today, (February 4, 2014),; Jill Busch “Training Reveals Rankings for 2011 Top 125,” Training Magazine, (February 8, 2011),; Ann LaGreca, “Loews Hotels CEO Jonathan Tisch on the Essence of Customer Service: Experience, Service and Quality,” Knowledge@Emory (July 11, 2007),

http://; “Loews Hotels Named Among ‘Top 125’ by Training Magazine,” Hotel and Motel Management, (March 9, 2009),; Holly Dolezalek, “We Train to Please” Training 45, no. 3 (March–April 2008): 34–35.