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An Impactful Career: Honoring Gerald Johnson ‘85 and his Legacy of Global Automotive Leadership

Gerald Johnson

Gerald’s leadership, vision and relentless pursuit of excellence in manufacturing have left an indelible mark on GM. ”

GM CEO Mary Barra, ‘85

ϲʹ is proud to recognize the impact and innovation of alumnus and Trustee Gerald Johnson ‘85 as General Motors announced his retirement after 44 years.

Johnson, a distinguished alumnus of ϲʹ, has left an indelible mark on the automotive industry through his transformative leadership and commitment to sustainability.

After graduating with a degree in Industrial Operations Management from Kettering, then General Motors Institute (GMI), Johnson rose through the ranks at GM where he held pivotal roles leading manufacturing operations throughout Europe, directed global quality and training initiatives, and served as a member of the leadership team that refocused the trajectory of GM's manufacturing and sustainability efforts.

As the Executive Vice President of Global Manufacturing and Sustainability, Johnson's influence at GM has spanned manufacturing engineering and labor relations. GM has set ambitious targets for carbon neutrality and electrification, positioning the company as a leader in sustainable automotive practices. Johnson has skillfully led the company’s manufacturing operations in reaching and exceeding those goals. He also played a crucial role in the company’s workplace adaptations during the COVID-19 pandemic, and in 2023 was a lead in negotiating its latest contract with the UAW.

Johnson's impact extends beyond corporate strategy. He has been a staunch advocate for diversity and inclusion within GM, fostering an environment where he championed initiatives to create a more inclusive environment within GM and the broader automotive industry, especially working to inspire young people of color to explore careers in engineering. He received the BEYA Black Engineer of the Year Award in 2021, the Manufacturing Leader of the Year Award from the Manufacturing Leadership Council in 2021, the SAE Subir Chowdhury Medal of Quality Leadership in 2018, the Kettering Alumni Outstanding Achievement Award for his work in manufacturing in 2013, and the Michigan Chronicle’s Fifth Annual Men of Excellence Award in 2012. 

In a statement, GM CEO Mary Barra, ‘85 said, “Gerald’s leadership, vision and relentless pursuit of excellence in manufacturing have left an indelible mark on GM.” 

Despite his demanding role, Johnson remains connected to his alma mater, ϲʹ, where he actively mentors aspiring engineers, imparting wisdom gleaned from his extensive experience. He delivered the commencement addresses for the classes of 2020 and 2021 whose ceremonies were held the same day as the state of Michigan emerged from the pandemic. In 2011, he delivered a $120,000 gift from the GM Foundation to support FIRST Robotics, SAE competition teams, women and minority scholarships, the AIM and LITE programs, the annual Ability Scholarship, and scholarships for Hispanic students.

Gerald Johnson's journey from Kettering to global automotive leadership is a testament to his vision, dedication, and lasting impact on GM and the industry as a whole.