GM’s new CEO is America’s first female car chief

Head of product development Mary Barra joined US car giant at 18

Mary Barra introduces the 2013 Buick Encore during the press preview at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan. Photograph: Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

Mary Barra introduces the 2013 Buick Encore during the press preview at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan. Photograph: Bill Pugliano/Getty Images


General Motors, America’s largest car manufacturer, has named Mary Barra its chief executive, making her the first woman to head a major auto firm.

Barra’s appointment was announced yesterday, a day after the US government sold off its last stake in the auto giant. The daughter of a GM worker, Barra joined the company at 18 and is currently its global head of product development.

Michelle Krebs, a veteran auto analyst at Edmunds. com, said the move was a major victory for women in the auto industry. “My first comment to colleagues was: ‘Holy s***!’ I honestly didn’t think this would happen in my lifetime.”

The company said the 51-year-old Barra had risen through a series of manufacturing, engineering, and senior staff positions in her 33 years with GM.

She succeeds Dan Akerson, a corporate turnaround expert appointed by the Obama administration in 2009 to help shepherd the automaker through its bankruptcy. She will also join the company’s board, the fifth female member of the 14-strong board.

On Monday, the US Treasury announced it had sold its final stake in the company. GM emerged from bankruptcy in July 2009. The company has become solidly profitable despite continuing difficulties in Europe. The US lost $10.5bn on its GM bailout, officials said, arguing that it was a smaller loss than it would have suffered had GM gone under.

The company said Akerson (65) had brought forward his succession plan several months after his wife was recently diagnosed with an advanced stage of cancer.

“I will leave with great satisfaction in what we have accomplished, great optimism over what is ahead and great pride that we are restoring General Motors as America’s standard bearer in the global auto industry,” Akerson said in a message to employees.

Barra earned her bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Kettering University - formerly the General Motors Institute in Flint, Michigan. She also holds an MBA from Stanford.

Top candidate
Barra grew up in Waterford, a suburb of Detroit. Her father worked for 39 years as a GM dye maker.

“With an amazing portfolio of cars and trucks and the strongest financial performance in our recent history, this is an exciting time at today’s GM,” said Barra. “I’m honoured to lead the best team in the business and to keep our momentum at full speed.”

Krebs said: “Mary has been rumoured to be a top candidate for some time, but there were always other contenders. Too many times we have seen the auto industry become a great training ground for women executives who then move on to other industries.

“She’s rock solid. She’s quiet on the outside but internally she is extremely effective and a strong leader. She came up through the manufacturing ranks. They are not as bad as they used to be but any woman who comes up that way has to be tough.”

Akerson will step down in January. Under his guidance the company returned to the stock market in November 2010 and has recorded 15 consecutive quarters of profitability, reinvested nearly $9bn and created or retained more than 25,000 jobs at its US plants.

“My goals as CEO were to put the customer at the centre of every decision we make, to position GM for long term success and to make GM a company that America can be proud of again,” Akerson said. “We are well down that path, and I’m certain that our new team will keep us moving in that direction.” –(Guardian News & Media)

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