Around the Water Cooler With a General Motors Vice President

Diana Tremblay shares tips for taking the driver’s seat in your company and career.

Diana Tremblay shares tips for taking the driver’s seat in your company and career
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Growing up, Diana Tremblay was the first one out of the house to greet her father when he came home from work each night. Sure, she was excited to see him, but she really dashed outside to see which shiny General Motors model rolled up her driveway.

"I couldn't even tell you which ones he brought home, but just a new car and the smell and the feel of a new car, I couldn't wait to get my hands on them," Tremblay says, her voice teeming with glee as she recalls the memory.

Those vehicles her father brought home as a GM employee kindled her passion for cars and dream of working in the auto industry. And that dream came true: In the 36 years Tremblay has worked for GM, she has climbed the ladder to become one of the company's highest-ranking female executives.

The 53-year-old metro Detroiter, who once jumped at opportunities to visit the GM plants her father worked in, was recently tasked with streamlining processes to make those plants more cost-effective. In her role as the company's first vice president of global business services, she'll oversee thousands of employees in areas ranging from finances and human resources, to real estate and purchasing.

Prior to her appointment, she served as the vice president of North America Manufacturing responsible for 56 assembly, powertrain and stamping plants. And as a former vice president of manufacturing and labor relations, she led the labor negotiations with the United Automobile Workers during the height of Detroit's auto crises.

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Talking with U.S. News on the 11th day of her new position and about one week after the city of Detroit filed for bankruptcy, Tremblay expressed the same exuberance for sitting in the driver's seat of this novel GM operation as the first time she got behind the wheel of her father's Corvette. Her responses have been edited.

You became the vice president of global business on July 1 and have held several positions before this. Do you have any tips for people who move around in a company who want to prepare the next person to take over their role?

Whenever you're going to transition jobs, and somebody is going to come in behind you, they're going to see things with a fresh set of eyes. I would say every person brings their strength and abilities to the job, so let that person bring their own strengths to the job and contribute in ways that they can best contribute, rather than fit the mold of exactly the way I did the job.

Also, make sure you do have somebody, hopefully more than one person, prepared and ready to step in. No matter what job you're in, one of your main jobs as a leader is to grow and develop the next generation of leaders, so make sure if you're not spending time on that, that you do that.

One of your new responsibilities is to cut $2 billion in costs. For business owners who are also trying to reduce costs, what's one good area to target?

Take a look at the way you do work and the processes that you use – whether it's as simple as taking an invoice and following it through every step in the company and doing an evaluation. So taking a look at standardizing your processes and reducing the waste that you have in a way that you get work done is probably the biggest area of opportunity for about any company.

And all those times where people do stand around the water cooler and say, "Well, that's really stupid. I don't know why we do it that way," those are great opportunities for looking at ways to fix them.

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If an employee wants to negotiate retirement or health benefits before taking a job, how should he or she go about that?

In any negotiations, the more facts you have to put on the table, the better off you are – whether you're negotiating with a union, negotiating with a supplier with a contract or negotiating your new benefit package. So go out, do your research, do your benchmarking, have your data there that says, "This is what this job is; this is the comparable database." So know your competitive environment.