Gerald Johnson: Engineer Who Worked His Way Up
Gerald Johnson chose to become an engineer when he was in high school to provide for his family. Thanks to years of hard work, dedication, and taking advantage of every opportunity that came, he worked his way up to become an industry leader, leaving a lasting impact on the world around him.
Photo courtesy of DB Magazine.
Growing up on the East side of Cleveland, Ohio, Johnson moved schools frequently. Multiple times throughout elementary school, he would take an aptitude test, score very well on it, and be moved to a different public school. While it was meant to provide him with more opportunities, Johnson remembered always having to leave his friends.
“It felt like my intelligence was costing me something,” He said in an interview with local news site, cleveland.com.
After receiving a scholarship to an elite private school for high school, where he was one of six Black students, he learned about engineering as a career option through a school counselor.
Johnson then attended a co-op program through General Motors Institute (now Kettering University), where, at just 17, he alternated every three months between attending school for his Bachelor’s degree and working in a GM plant.
Johnson earned his Bachelor’s in industrial administration through the program and quickly worked his way up the corporate ladder at GM, eventually winning a company fellowship to MIT to earn his Master’s in manufacturing operations.
Gerald Johnson: GM Career
After earning his Master’s, Johnson rose to leadership positions within GM. He became an executive director of Assembly and Stamping Operations, followed by President of General Motor Component Holdings, where he managed over $1 billion in startup projects. In 2017 he became the vice president of GM North America manufacturing and labor relations, where he received the Subir Chowdhury Medal of Quality for Leadership for his mentorship work and training of 5,000 leaders within GM.
Today, he is the first African-American to serve as the Executive Vice President, Global Manufacturing and Sustainability, where he is responsible for approximately 94,800 employees spread across 13 countries. He is a founding member of GM’s Inclusion Advisory Board, serves on the Kettering University Board of Trustees, and was recently elected to Caterpillar Inc.’s Board of Directors, as well as sitting on many other boards within GM and across the industry.
Johnson works to lead GM into an all-electric future and negotiates with unions around the world, as well as volunteering with an online tutoring program to help children become more confident in their reading skills. He regularly visits plants around the world to get to know employees, ask questions, and work to solve issues with the team.
2021 Black Engineer of the Year
In 2021, Johnson was named the Black Engineer of the Year, and honored with a digital gala. US Black Engineer and Information Technology chose Johnson for their top award for his commitment to DEI efforts and leading GM’s efforts throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. At the beginning of the pandemic, Johnson transformed two GM factories to produce much-needed face masks, lifesaving ventilators, and other personal protection equipment- supplying the world with millions of units of important resources.
Johnson credits his amazing work ethic to his parents and having a paper route growing up.