WHEN VIKTOR Makela arrived in America from Finland, the Statue of Liberty welcomed him. He brought more than a few material possessions with him; he arrived with a heart filled with dreams. Makela disembarked into a nation whose foundation promises an opportunity for prosperity and success for every individual. It was a voyage that would change history.
Viktor married Maria Luoma, also a Finnish immigrant, and had three children, one of them a son, Reino, whom they called Ray. Ray married another second-generation Finnish immigrant, Eva Pyykkönen. Their daughter, Mary Barra, who spoke at the Duke University commencement ceremony on May 8, 2022, tells more about them:
“My mom came from a large family with eight kids and grew up on a farm in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. She grew up in the Depression, and they were very poor. My dad grew up in Minnesota, on the Iron Range, also during the Depression. He earned a Gold Star Medal and the Purple Heart while serving in World War II, and he worked for General Motors (GM) for 39 years as a die maker. They both believed in the American dream: If you worked hard enough, got yourself an education, and believed in yourself, you could achieve anything,” Barra said.
Mary Barra took it to heart.
In 1980, while attending General Motors Institute (now Kettering University), Barra worked as a co-op student for General Motors, where she inspected hoods and fender panels on the Pontiac Grand Prix. She paid for her college tuition with the money earned from this job, graduating in 1985 with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. Bara then obtained her master’s degree in business administration from the Stanford Graduate School of Business on a GM fellowship.
Barra’s work at GM continued in various administrative and engineering positions, one of which was the Detroit/Hamtramck Assembly Plant manager. She seized every professional and educational opportunity presented to her by GM. Her hard work paid off.
In 2014, Barra was named the first female CEO of a major big-three auto manufacturer and was the most powerful woman on the Forbes list in 2017. Today she is the fourth most powerful.
Barra said in the commencement ceremony, “I’ve always been a big believer in the expression that ‘hard work beats talent if talent doesn’t work hard.’”
Barra’s management style is saturated in honesty, hard work, a genuine listening ear, and all-inclusive policies, offering every employee the opportunity to pursue their dreams.
Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness undergird our freedom. It’s a freedom that began with the founding of our country and still remains, 246 years from the signing of the declaration. It has been bought at a price. It is a privilege that continues to be possible through the ongoing service and sacrifice of others.
This freedom allows independent spirits to pursue their dreams. Inherent to their success is the desire and the means to help others pursue their dreams. It is a cycle of life in the land of the free.