Career Capsule: Steve Harris

Steve Harris is retiring for the second time from the top PR job at General Motors Corporation.  Two years ago, Steve received the prestigious Arthur W. Page Society Hall of Fame Award and delivered an insightful and humorous speech about his phenomenal career.  Steve’s Career Capsule below underscores why he is considered the auto industry’s consummate PR professional.

   Steve Harris

My path to a career in public relations was a total fluke.  While in junior high school in California in the late 1950s you were required to take two industrial “shop” classes.  I chose print shop.  On the first day of class the instructor called a student at random from the class, took a huge metal paddle off the wall, asked the student to bend over and swatted him (remember, this was the 1950s!).  I immediately realized that print shop was not a good place for me.

So I went to my counselor and said a big mistake had been made and that I had asked for a journalism class, which my friends had told me was fun and easy.  I stayed focused on journalism through high and college at the University of Southern California.  While at USC I was an undergraduate representative on the board of Sigma Delta Chi, the journalism honorary society.  There I met the regional PR manager for General Motors R.T. Kingman.

I aspired to own a weekly newspaper but at the request of R.T., I interviewed for a job with GM Public Relations performing junior and senior high school assembly programs across the country in an attempt to interest students in science careers.

Forty-two years later, I’m still waiting to buy that weekly newspaper.  All but two of those 42 years have been spent in the U.S. auto industry.  So here are the positions I held over the years:

General Motors  (1967 – 1979)

  • Lecturer, GM Previews of Progress, Detroit
  • GM Regional PR Representative, Cleveland
  • GM Regional PR Assistant Manager, Los Angeles
  • GM Regional PR Manager, Indianapolis
  • Western Regional PR Manager, Chevrolet, Los Angeles

American Motors  (1979 – 1987)

  • Director, Product PR, AMC, Detroit

Chrysler Motors/Corporation/DaimlerChrysler  (1987- 1999)

  • Executive Director, Corporate PR, Chrysler Motors
  • Executive Director, Corporate and Product PR, Chrysler Corporation
  • Vice President, Communications, Chrysler Corporation
  • Senior Vice President, Communications, DaimlerChrysler Corporation

General Motors  (1999 – 2003)

  • Vice President, GM Global Communications
  • Retired January 1, 2004 

Steven J. Harris Communications, LLC  (2004 – 2006)

  • Set up own consulting firm and worked with two PR agencies on various client issues.

General Motors  (2006 – 2009)

  • Vice President, GM Global Communications
  • Retiring October 1

As for what’s ahead after my second retirement from General Motors, I plan to teach a graduate communications course at my alma mater, the University of Southern California, in Los Angeles.  And I’m sure I will do some consulting again.

I never had a plan.  Always sought to work for, with and hire the best people I could.  I stumbled into an industry that has been endlessly fascinating and challenging.  And I’ve tried to keep learning.  As tough as it was, communicating during the recent GM bankruptcy was a great experience.  It was sad, it was frustrating but it was the ultimate challenge, a great team effort and everyone involved learned so much.  I’ve been blessed throughout my career.  I hope you experience the same.

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