By Karen Dybis
Ask Vivian R. Pickard about an average day at the General Motors Foundation, and your question will be greeted with a knowing smile.
“Every day is a different day here. We never know what will happen from 9 in the morning to 6 in the evening because things change hourly,” laughs Pickard, who has headed this non-profit organization since December 2010.
For example, in the hours after massive tornadoes ripped through Oklahoma in May, the Foundation began the process of helping those affected. Within two hours of coming into the office the morning after the first storm, there was a team assigned to the relief efforts, permission granted to gift $50,000 from the Foundation and a donation of a 2013 Chevrolet Silverado full-size pickup for its partner, Forgotten Harvest, to help carry down thousands of dollars in food donations.
Pickard sees it as just another day in the office. Those who know her understand that without her commitment to her longtime employer, her knowledge of the not-for-profit world, her devotion to volunteerism and her unwavering optimism for solving problems – big or small – that the GM Foundation would not be as efficient and effective as it is.
“This is the only place where I have worked in my career. That means General Motors has been pretty good to me. But I think I’ve been pretty good to General Motors,” Pickard laughs. “Truly, I’ve had great supporters within my company for the work that I’ve done.
“I could never have imagined having the opportunity I have right now. From the time I was 10 years of age, my parents made sure we had a commitment as a family to make a difference in our community. We all had to do things for the community and for others. It was part of my DNA and that of my family. So I never imagined I’d have a position where I can do things that help make a difference,” Pickard adds.
Granted, Pickard cannot take credit for all the Foundation has done since its inception in 1976. And it is not in her personality to seek or claim the work done by those before her. But it is through her tenure that the GM Foundation has taken on some of its largest challenges and made its biggest donations. And it is her enthusiasm for partnering with other groups and civic organizations that have benefitted so many that come in contact with her and her work.
“Vivian has the ability to listen and focus in on the core actions that can transform a situation or initiative. Her commitment, passion, insight and drive to improve Michigan and Detroit are unsurpassed,” says Terry Barclay, president and CEO of Inforum and Inforum Center for Leadership.