Ms Barra, whose career started on a factory floor as an intern more than 30 years ago, has been in charge of product development and quality of all GM cars and trucks for 22 months.
General Motors picks industry’s first female chief executive
General Motors named Mary Barra to succeed Dan Akerson as chief executive officer, making her the first female CEO in the global automotive industry. Mr Akerson is retiring on January 15, and Tim Solso was named chairman.
Mr Akerson, chief executive since 2010, turned 65 in October and his wife was recently diagnosed with an advanced stage of cancer, GM said in a statement. Mr Solso is the former chief executive and chairman of Cummins. Dan Ammann, the chief financial officer, was named president of the company.
Ms Barra, 51, whose career started on a factory floor as an intern more than 30 years ago, has been in charge of product development and quality of all GM cars and trucks for 22 months, fostering collaboration and wringing costs out of the supply chain. The daughter of a Pontiac die maker takes the helm after the US government sold its stake in GM, giving her full freedom to take on domestic and Japanese manufacturers whose price competition threatens profit.
Succession is “one of the most important risks at General Motors for an investor with a medium- to long-term horizon,” Adam Jonas, an analyst with Morgan Stanley, said in an interview earlier this year. “Leadership in the auto industry – one leader can make tens of billions of difference. We’ve seen that.”
As the first female chief executive of a global automaker, Ms Barra joins Ginni Rometty at International Business Machines, Indra Nooyi at PepsiCo, Marissa Mayer at Yahoo!, Hewlett- Packard’s Meg Whitman and Ursula Burns of Xerox as women who have risen to run major US corporations.
Ms Barra began with GM in 1980 as a student at General Motors Institute (since renamed Kettering University) in Flint, Michigan, and landed her first job as a plant engineer at Pontiac Motor Division, where her father worked for 39 years. There were few women and even fewer 18-year-olds.
“It was a rougher environment,” she said in an interview in March. “It makes you harder.”
Her big break came when GM put her in a programme for high- potential workers and gave her a scholarship to get an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business. She became an executive assistant for then-CEO Jack Smith, a perch that gave her a window into how the company worked. She recalls visiting senior leaders at GM to talk about diversity and women’s issues while she was pregnant.
Ms Barra has played a role in GM management for a generation. Her career has include time as vice president of global manufacturing engineering, head of GM’s Detroit Hamtramck Assembly plant and executive director of competitive operations engineering. Before becoming GM’s first female product chief, she was the company’s top human-resources executive.
Most recently she led the company’s US$15 billion vehicle-development operations, a high-profile role that’s given her sway over the look and feel of the full line of GM cars and trucks. She was promoted to that position in early 2011, less than six months after Mr Akerson became chief executive.
Some of the new vehicles to come out under her include the Chevrolet Impala, the first US sedan in at least 20 years chosen by Consumer Reports as as the best on the market, and the Cadillac CTS, picked as Motor Trend’s car of the year.