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A New General

Mary Barra to lead GM

By James Martinez

Pages 10-11


As the January Detroiter went to press, General Motors announced that Mary Barra would succeed Dan Akerson as CEO, effective Jan. 15. The move not only marks the first time a female executive has broken through the glass ceiling to lead a major automaker, it reflects an important development for an industry fiercely competing for top-notch talent.

“This is a wonderful glass-ceiling moment, but I hope as a society we’re getting used to these glass ceilings breaking. I’m hopeful for the day when this is not as big news, but obviously, it is huge news,” said Chamber President and CEO Sandy Baruah.

“Considering her success and track record of leadership, Mary Barra becoming CEO is an obvious win for GM. More importantly, it shows the path to success and leadership for all the talented women engineers and business leaders in the workforce today and in the future.”

Barra has been a leader in the company’s ongoing turnaround, revitalizing GM’s product development process resulting in the launch of critically acclaimed new products while delivering record product quality ratings and higher customer satisfaction.

“When we announced that Mary Barra will become our next CEO, for the first time in decades, all eyes at General Motors pointed toward the future. The end of the “Government Motors” era has cleared the runway for the team to soar. And soar we will because we are building a GM that America can be proud of,” Akerson said in a statement.

With 33 years of experience at GM, Barra has risen through a series of manufacturing, engineering, and senior staff positions including senior vice president of global product development, which held the responsibility for the design, engineering, program management and quality of General Motors vehicles around the world.

“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. I’m honored to lead the best team in the business and to keep our momentum at full speed,” said Barra in a press release.

On Aug. 1, 2013, she assumed responsibility for GM’s global purchasing and supply chain organization and was named executive vice president of global product development and global purchasing and supply chain.

“She has proven herself worthy of the job by running the most expensive and most complex parts of GM’s business – product development and purchasing. And she has a track record of getting people to work together toward a common purpose. In that sense, she’s the right person for the job at the moment. I think it remains to be seen whether she is the kind of visionary who can take GM into the future,” said Joann Muller, Forbes Detroit bureau chief.

The possibility of a woman becoming CEO of one of the Detroit Three was alluded to at the inaugural Michigan Automotive Summit at Cobo Center in September. Akerson, who appeared through a partnership with Inforum Center for Leadership, discussed the importance of inclusion in the work place.

“We want the best, hardest working people we can get. I don’t care what language they speak, or what gender they are,” said Akerson at the event.

Akerson made national headlines saying that: “… the Detroit Three are all run by non-car guys, some day there will be a Detroit Three run by a car gal.”

The appearance included the 10th anniversary release of Inforum’s Michigan Women’s Leadership Index, a biennial snapshot of the leadership role of women in Michigan’s top 100 public companies. The organization highlighted the Barra announcement on its website, writing the following:

“Inforum applauds Mary Barra on this well-deserved and historic promotion, demonstrating that talent is a company’s best differentiator. … This milestone will forever change how the industry — and the tremendous opportunities within it — are viewed by the world and young women, in particular. … We wish Mary much continued success as she continues the long, fascinating journey of women making a difference in business — and the world.”

Barra began her career with GM in 1980 as a General Motors Institute (Kettering University) co-op student at the Pontiac Motor Division and graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering. In addition to her aforementioned positions, Barra has also served as vice president, global human resources; GM vice president, global manufacturing engineering; plant manager, Detroit Hamtramck Assembly; executive director of competitive operations engineering; and has held several engineering and staff positions.

James Martinez is editor of the Detroiter.