Alicia Boler-Davis knows a thing or two about quality. As General Motors senior vice president, global quality & customer experience she is responsible for developing and executing the strategy that will enable GM to be a leader in quality and the overall experience customers have when they do business with the company.
Boler-Davis said that GM’s quality efforts start well before the customer comes into the showroom. Her team looks at the entire customer lifecycle, including initial touch points with the customer digital/online or printed information. Once the customer is interested, her team works closely with marketing and sales to deliver what the customer expects.
Most customers keep their cars for several years, so longevity is critical, according to Boler-Davis. “The decisions we make today impact seven to 10 years from now. Quality builds brands. We need to minimize failures. Product excellence and product performance has a direct impact,” she said. “We make sure that throughout the ownership cycle, we are convenient, accessible, knowledgeable and transparent. So, when the customers are in the market again, they come back.”
Boler-Davis’s 20-year career at General Motors began in 1994 as a manufacturing engineer in the midsize/luxury car division. She was the first African-American woman to be appointed as plant manager at a GM vehicle manufacturing plant. She has also held many positions of increasing responsibility in manufacturing, engineering and product development.
One of the defining moments in Boler-Davis’ career occurred when she took over leadership of the Orion Assembly plant in Michigan. The plant had been idled in 2009 due to General Motors’ Chapter 11 organization. Under an agreement with the United Auto Workers, the plant began assembling small cars in 2011. She not only had to restart and renovate the plant with the latest technology, but had to bring back union employees who had previously been laid off, impart a new mindset among the staff and build a completely new corporate culture.
“The job was a milestone, because it was the first time one person was responsible for the product and for building it,” she said. She added that the job had “extremely high risks, but high rewards.” A highlight was meeting President Obama and Lee Myung-bak, who was president of South Korea at the time.
Boler-Davis said one of the main challenges in her job is balancing speed with the overall big picture. “Just because something works here in the United States does not automatically mean it will work in some of our other markets,” she said. “We have to take the time to really understand our customers. Expectations are usually very similar, but how we meet and deliver on those expectations may be different. We’ve had to make sure we have the voice of the global market and that while we have global processes in place, we differentiate locally.”
A fearless attitude has been one of the keys to success, according to Boler-Davis, and she advises minority women to follow their hearts. “Once you have the passion and training and gain new skills, then don’t be afraid to take on risks and new assignments,” she said.
“Being in a corporate environment where that [risk-taking] is welcome and where there are opportunities is very important,” Boler-Davis added. “That [atmosphere] and being open to new challenges and continuous learning have been the keys to my success.”
By Genny Hom-Franzen