Student Essay: Mary Barra ‘wins with integrity’ to restore public trust

April 10, 2023

Alexi Kim

By Alexi Kim, advertising/public relations major at the University of Central Florida

“Do the right thing even when it’s hard.”

This simple statement from Mary Barra holds great power, especially in the context of her leadership. As CEO of General Motors for nearly a decade, Barra has fully embodied this philosophy and inspired integrity throughout the entire organization.

To me, integrity is all about being honest, trustworthy and transparent. This definition was seen throughout Barra’s own description of her leadership, her actions during her time at General Motors and the ways others describe her.

For one, Barra explains that no matter how much her teams have on their plates, she always emphasizes the importance of doing it all the right way. She has reinforced this idea of ‘winning with integrity’ with her leaders and employees to the point that it has become a prominent part of the culture at General Motors.

This is clearly seen in the way she handled the ignition switch crisis with the company. In the face of an intense crisis concerning GM’s automobiles, Barra was upfront and transparent with the issue, accepted responsibility and took action to implement preventative measures to make sure nothing of the sort could ever happen again. Again, her response to the situation exemplifies a choice made with strong integrity. 

This quality of hers is recognized by everyone she works with. Barra is consistently described in a way perfectly aligned with the values honored by the Larry Foster award: “integrity drives every decision she makes” and “she always does what is right even when it’s difficult.” This is especially inspiring for all entering the field of public communications.

As Barra explains, this value is critical for communicators to uphold to ensure messages are shaped with honesty and transparency. Her strategy to win with integrity will be crucial in restoring the public’s trust in all that we do.

This essay was a winning submission from the 2023 Page Center Awards’ Student Essay Contest.
Visit the awards page for more information about past events and honorees.