Close this search box.
Close this search box.

Master of Manufacturing: Jim Glynn, GM’s Point Man for Covid-19 Reopening

Automaker’s manufacturing veteran stresses ‘emotional safety’ for workers in leading restart of operations after pandemic.

This is the latest in our “Masters of Manufacturing” series, presented in partnership with The Indiana Economic Development Corporation. Each month we share insights and ideas from innovative, growth-minded manufacturing CEOs from across the nation as they navigate this tricky time in history.

Editor’s Note: Jim Glynn will share early learnings from GM’s reopening as one of the keynote speakers at our Smart Manufacturing Summit, June 3-4. Register now!

Jim Glynn has taken on some key assignments for General Motors CEO Mary Barra over her six years at the helm, but it’s possible none of them have been as important as his current task: leading efforts to ensure that the company’s re-start of manufacturing operations is safe for the tens of thousands of employees in GM plants around the world.

“I never would have imagined it ahead of time, but one thing about this role is that it’s been unbelievably invigorating,” the 62-year-old Glynn told Chief Executive. “Every day there is a new challenge and a new angle and a new perspective to consider. Sometimes we’ve had to pause and refocus and challenge our own strategy – and then push forward again. So sometimes we’ve had to take a couple of steps back. But over time, we’ve definitely made a difference.”

Certainly no other assignments undertaken by Glynn in his 41-year career with America’s biggest automaker have been as high-profile as the current one, which he is tackling as GM’s vice president of worker safety. Beginning in March, Glynn was tagged with a leadership role in the rapid conversion of the company’s Kokomo, Indiana, electronic-parts plant into a medical-ventilator factory.

Soon thereafter he was honchoing the company’s efforts to convert every one of its manufacturing plants to new Covid-19 protocols, and to prepare for this month’s cranking up of U.S. vehicle output after a two-month pause. Glynn even co-authored, with Barra, GM’s 48-page playbook for re-opening that the automaker has been happily sharing with its suppliers and other manufacturers.

Glynn is a comfortable right hand for Barra in this assignment. They essentially rose apace over three decades through the ranks of GM’s manufacturing and engineering hierarchy, historically one of the two prominent tracks to the upper reaches of management – finance being the other one. Glynn directly reported to Barra during that time for a few years.

A Buffalo native, Glynn graduated from the Rochester Institute of Technology and earned a master’s in engineering at Ohio State University. He rose through the ranks of GM’s manufacturing, and manufacturing engineering, including an assignment leading operations in Mexico. Glynn became North American manufacturing manager and, in that job, helped oversee the launch at a plant in Hamtramck, Michigan, of Chevrolet Volt, the hybrid vehicle that pivoted the automaker into the electric future.

In 2013, Glynn was promoted to North America labor relations vice president and helped lead the company’s negotiating team through the 2015 talks with the United Auto Workers, which ended in a new contract without a strike. After that, he undertook one more important assignment from Barra: Shore up GM’s Asian manufacturing operations by spending a couple of years in China and South Korea. Glynn returned stateside a couple of years ago when Barra named him chief of worker safety.

So Glynn was already in place when the job of overseeing worker safety arguably became the most important in the company after the invasion of the coronavirus. Among other things, he’s been in charge of channeling Barra’s concern “that every people leader in GM understood the [Covid-19 safety] protocols intimately,” he said. “And she recognized it’s more than just the medical science. She knew there was going to be the emotional part to this thing that every employee would have questions about.”

So along with calling on his background as a very successful nuts-and-bolts leader in the Detroit tradition, it’s the emotional aspect of the Covid-19 shock that has earned a lot of Glynn’s attention.

“We’ve kind of shifted and pivoted to the emotional-safety part of the thing,” he explained. “I noticed that I’ve had some personal trepidation; we were sheltered in place so much that even going to the supermarket, you think about the virus and how it spreads. It’s natural for all of us to do that. So I knew that our engineers and finance people and line workers were all going to have some fear. So we needed to address that.

“We need to help one another through that. That’s why [Barra] has wanted to focus so hard on making sure people understand how the protocols work and why they work, to help people get through the emotional side and get productive again.”

As for him, Glynn called his current role “probably the most challenging strategically and mentally I’ve had, from the standpoint of helping people make good decisions. Because we’ve never come back from a pandemic before. So you can’t rely on the last time.”


  • Get the CEO Briefing

    Sign up today to get weekly access to the latest issues affecting CEOs in every industry
  • upcoming events


    Strategic Planning Workshop

    1:00 - 5:00 pm

    Over 70% of Executives Surveyed Agree: Many Strategic Planning Efforts Lack Systematic Approach Tips for Enhancing Your Strategic Planning Process

    Executives expressed frustration with their current strategic planning process. Issues include:

    1. Lack of systematic approach (70%)
    2. Laundry lists without prioritization (68%)
    3. Decisions based on personalities rather than facts and information (65%)


    Steve Rutan and Denise Harrison have put together an afternoon workshop that will provide the tools you need to address these concerns.  They have worked with hundreds of executives to develop a systematic approach that will enable your team to make better decisions during strategic planning.  Steve and Denise will walk you through exercises for prioritizing your lists and steps that will reset and reinvigorate your process.  This will be a hands-on workshop that will enable you to think about your business as you use the tools that are being presented.  If you are ready for a Strategic Planning tune-up, select this workshop in your registration form.  The additional fee of $695 will be added to your total.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $695 will be added to your total.

    New York, NY: ​​​Chief Executive's Corporate Citizenship Awards 2017

    Women in Leadership Seminar and Peer Discussion

    2:00 - 5:00 pm

    Female leaders face the same issues all leaders do, but they often face additional challenges too. In this peer session, we will facilitate a discussion of best practices and how to overcome common barriers to help women leaders be more effective within and outside their organizations. 

    Limited space available.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $495 will be added to your total.

    Golf Outing

    10:30 - 5:00 pm
    General’s Retreat at Hermitage Golf Course
    Sponsored by UBS

    General’s Retreat, built in 1986 with architect Gary Roger Baird, has been voted the “Best Golf Course in Nashville” and is a “must play” when visiting the Nashville, Tennessee area. With the beautiful setting along the Cumberland River, golfers of all capabilities will thoroughly enjoy the golf, scenery and hospitality.

    The golf outing fee includes transportation to and from the hotel, greens/cart fees, use of practice facilities, and boxed lunch. The bus will leave the hotel at 10:30 am for a noon shotgun start and return to the hotel after the cocktail reception following the completion of the round.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $295 will be added to your total.