A 52-year-old Latina is on the fast track at General Motors, and she seems to represent the sea change taking place at the humbled auto maker, long famous for badgering suppliers of molds, plastics parts, and just about everything for the absolute lowest price—at
the expense of supplier relations. Total value? Life-cycle cost? Supplier input? Out the window at GM from about 1990 through 2005.
General Motors today named Grace Lieblein as vice president, Global Purchasing and Supply Chain, reporting directly to the company’s vice chairman. She manages a $77-billion buy after running GM’s Brazilian group.
She replaces Bob Socia, who had made headway improving supplier relations at GM, according to an annual survey by a Michigan research group called Planning Perspectives, Inc. Trust of automakers by their suppliers is rising for the US and Japanese Big 3. However, it has fallen steadily for the European Big 3 since they were first measured in 2010.
GM’s score has steadily risen since 2005, when it had about half the trust score of Toyota or Honda, which have slid some off their lofty peaks since then.
It was a gentleman named Dave Nelson who changed the automotive purchasing paradigm when he enlisted suppliers to help Honda boost quality and manufacturing and lower costs for a ten-year period starting in 1987. It was during that time that GM brought in José Ignacio López de Arriortúa as its purchasing czar. He promptly ordered mandatory, across-the-board price cuts in a blistering attack that pushed many plastics processors and other small companies totally out of the automotive business—by their choice, not his.
There are signals that Lieblein’s mission will be more like Socia’s and not López’s.
And that’s all for the good.