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Wiring harnesses or Silverados. That was the choice Mari Kay Scott had to make after graduating with an engineering degree. The harness manufacturer was offering a solid job, but then she saw the inside of the GM truck assembly plant.
"It was like, 'Holy cow, this is really cool!'" Scott recalls. "There's conveyor belts going all over the place, and there's people doing all kinds of work, and there's fork trucks, and it's just amazing. And you go to the end of the final line and they turn the key, and it starts and you drive it off. It's almost like magic." That moment was decades ago and you can still hear the rush in her voice. "The GM job was a maintenance job and I didn't exactly understand what all that would be in the end, but it was like, 'I want to be a part of making these trucks.'"
Thirty years after her first taste of an assembly line, Scott manages a portfolio of 396 facilities in six continents across 23 time zones as General Motors' executive director of global facilities. In the first six months of 2014 alone, Scott travelled to Brazil, Ecuador, Columbia, Germany, the United Kingdom, Mexico, and Canada to touch base with existing operations and check the progress of construction projects coming on board. There's a lot to keep up with: She has oversight of global manufacturing and non-manufacturing systems, facility programs, and initiatives.
Her path over the last 30 years to the upper echelons of leadership at GM has travelled through many departments and duties, giving her an intimate and multi-faceted understanding of the company and how the facilities portfolio fits into the intricate choreography of producing billions of vehicles worldwide. Through this path, Scott has developed a skill set that she uses to hone herself as a leader. In turn, she applies these principles to managing her team, purposefully grooming the next generation of facilities leaders at GM.
As Steven Tomaszewski, director of North American real estate and facilities operations at GM, says, touting his boss' extremely competitive nature: "She's out to win. And when she's out to win, she's out to win for General Motors."
Like many in the upper echelons of leadership at GM — such as their recently appointed CEO, Mary Barra — Scott is a GM lifer. She started in a college-grad-in-training rotational program, after which she took a position as a maintenance supervisor. One of her early positions was as a third-shift booth cleaner supervisor. It was not exactly a glamorous prospect.
"You want me to supervise the people who clean the sludge out of the bottom of the paint booth?" she recalls thinking. But her supervisor thought it would be a good stretch assignment for her. And it was — she learned how to be a manager. "Sometimes, with the sanitation groups, people don't give them a lot of respect," she says. "And I had to get my job done, so I had to get to know them, and I had to give them the tools they needed to do their job." She found out that most people want to have pride in their work, and given respect and support, most people deliver.
Her career at GM progressed through different supervisory positions over 17 years. She became a general assembly area manager, which encompassed both production and maintenance, and then a plant engineer, which is when she started managing construction projects. That was what opened the door to the world wide facilities group, about 13 years ago, where a position in facilities management transitioned to a spot on the global capital projects team, and then her current position starting in January 2013, leading the global facilities organization for GM. She is the first woman to hold the position.
GM's FM Coach: Mari Kay Scott