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Pung Speaker Series: How culture and leadership drive a firm

By Vivian Tran, student writer
Wednesday, March 1, 2023

The 2023 Roy S. Pung Executive Speaker Series continued with a look into the complex realm of supply chain management within the automotive industry. The webinar featured Christine Sitek (B.A. Supply Chain Management ’89), executive director of global purchasing and supply chain at General Motors.

Christine Sitek headshot

Christine Sitek (B.A. Supply Chain Management ’89), executive director of global purchasing and supply chain at General Motors

With 35 years of experience at this Fortune 500 company, Sitek discussed two specific topics — the outstanding supply chain and culture at GM — along with leading through crisis management in a world filled with supply chain disruptions.

After various roles within manufacturing and engineering, operations and plants, quality and OnStar, Sitek transitioned to global purchasing and supply chain in November 2019. In her current role, Sitek is responsible for leading the strategic execution of vehicle and propulsion objectives as the voice of global purchasing and supply chain throughout the development cycle. She is enabling agile and profitable solutions and assuring flawless launch readiness and execution. Sitek’s career at GM has been defined by bold cross-functional moves requiring adaptability and change leadership.

During her presentation, Sitek explained how the global automotive company has evolved and set goals to become the most inclusive company in the world. A culture built around a commitment to winning, fostering strong partnerships, failing forward and learning quickly has proven successful for GM in recent years.

To track their improvements, GM closely measures employee and supplier relationships while also fostering transparency and trust. Sitek has found that these loyal partnerships at all levels are critical to establishing a foundation for the challenging and uncertain business environment, enabling quick action to address supply chain disruptions, focusing on a consistent robust data framework and increasing partners’ willingness to invest in new technology.

“You can’t build and call on a relationship only when you need it. It needs to be cultivated over time,” Sitek explained. “Trust is earned, not won. The metrics are part of it, but how we actually behaved and the trust we had to build is really what started to change the course of the relationship with the suppliers.”

A special success story Sitek shared with the students that served as a testament to GM’s supply chain capabilities was about the partnership with Ventec to produce ventilators amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Within 72 hours of Michigan’s initial lockdown announcement in March 2020, GM had engaged a supply base. Within a month of collaborating with suppliers and reverse engineering, GM was able to successfully produce ventilators off the line.

“This really shows how the company leveraged its culture, relationships and supply chain to win,” she said. “It’s just an example of what’s possible during a crisis when you have the backbone, culture and commitment to work together and what that really means. It’s a time in my career that I will likely never ever forget.”

“Results are important, but if you focus on the people and lead with empathy, the results are going to come.”

During her engaging discussion, Sitek shared an alarming fact: modern supply chains deal with over 200 disruptive events weekly. Whether it’s truck driver shortages, the semiconductor shortage, natural disasters or labor shortages, the industry has been hit especially hard. Sitek specifically gave insight into the impact of the semiconductor shortage from the point of view of GM and why leadership really matters in times of crisis.

“Crises are inevitable, but bad leadership doesn’t need to be,” she said. “We empowered and trusted at the lowest levels of the company to make decisions so we could move with speed, and it made a huge difference. When you operate in a culture of fear, bureaucracy and micromanagement, people don’t make decisions or take risks.”

Additionally, Sitek mentioned the many puzzle pieces for leading through a crisis, including collaboration, clear priority setting, empowerment and trust, quick and bold decision making, communication and transparency, a focus on people and leading with empathy.

“Leading with empathy is one of the single most important skills that came through this pandemic and even the semiconductor crisis, with the extreme pressure the industry was operating under,” she said. “Results are important, but if you focus on the people and lead with empathy, the results are going to come.”

Sitek serves as the executive sponsor for GM’s women’s employee resource group, which is focused on attracting, retaining, engaging and developing over 18,000 women members and allies globally. Outside of her career at GM, Sitek also proudly serves on the board for inFORUM, a Michigan-based nonprofit women’s economic club, where she’s actively involved on the leadership development committee. In her free time, Sitek enjoys cooking, reading and exercising to unwind.

More information on upcoming events in the 2022–23 Pung Speaker Series, as well as information on past events, is available at the Full-Time MBA program page.

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