A childhood interest in cars lead Grace Lieblein into a lifelong automotive career developing the cars of tomorrow and trailblazing a corporate path for Latinas and all women.
LatinaLista — Cars have always held a fascination for 48-year-old Grace Lieblein, president of Mexico City’s General Motors division. Growing up in the greater Los Angeles area, this daughter of a Nicaraguan mother and Cuban father wasn’t just interested in how cool a car looked, how fast it could go or how loud the speakers could blare. Grace was more interested in what purred under the hood — the engine.
Maybe it was because her own father worked at a General Motors plant that Grace knew that a car is nothing more than a shell without the powerful engine that makes it go. So, it wasn’t that surprising to Grace’s family when in high school she joined General Motors as a co-op student in the GM Assembly Division.
Grace Lieblein, president of GMM
Grace’s time on the assembly line whet her appetite for learning more about the mechanics of how an engine was put together and so, with encouragement from her brother-in-law who was an engineer, she pursued a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering and a master’s in management.
It was a combination of her educational background and her willingness to accept new challenges that accelerated Grace’s successful career at GM over the years, her one and only employer. In fact, it was while Grace was Global Vehicle Chief Engineer, where she oversaw the development of new products, that she was tapped to fill a role that no woman had ever filled.
In 2008, Grace was selected to oversee operations at GM de Mexico (GMM) as the plant’s 18th president and managing director and the first woman to assume the position in the 73-year history of GMM.
It is an assignment that Grace knows will prove tough but rewarding.
“My job is to work with the GM de Mexico team to continue the great performance that they have had over the last several years,” Grace said. “The economy in Mexico is tough as well, so we will have plenty of challenges.”
Challenges are second nature to Grace who, along with her rise through the GM ranks, has collected her share of recognition: recognized as one of the top 50 businesswomen in the United States by Hispanic Business Magazine in 2001, 2003 and 2005; named in 2005 by Automotive News as one of the Top 100 Women in the Auto Industry and in 2006 christened “Latino Executive of the Year” as part of the 2006 Urban Wheels Award, among several more awards.
But it’s not all awards and recognition. Grace spends her days thinking of where she wants to help take GM in the future, and she has some ideas.
When asked what she foresaw as the future of transportation, she replied, “Probably the biggest change will be the propulsion system. We’ll see a lot more electrification of the vehicle going forward.”
And while she contemplates how to help GM reach the next level of success, Grace is quick to point out that she views her own success as the starting point for others who want to follow in her footsteps.
“I am honored to be in the position. And I like to think that part of my role in leadership is not only my functional role of whatever the position is, but also as a role model for other folks: Latinas, other Hispanics in general, other women,” Grace said. “As you know those groups aren’t high, from a population perspective, in the engineering field. So I like to see myself as a role model and mentor for folks who aspire to that spot.”
In fact, Grace credits her parents for instilling in her the belief that she could do anything she set her mind to and to her husband and daughter for their unwavering support that saw the family crisscross the country as Grace accepted one assignment after another, and now finally into another country.
However, regardless if it’s in the United States or Mexico or a big or small company, Grace feels there are three specific steps all women must take to advance their professional careers.
“First, build a network of mentors…people that you can trust to give you feedback and advice, “Grace began. “Second, take on tough assignments. That’s the way that you prove what you can really achieve. Lastly, love what you do…it’s hard to do a great job if you don’t love it.”