By Albert Lin
General Motors’ board of directors has elected Mary Barra as the company’s next CEO, effective Jan. 15. Barra, who will succeed the retiring Dan Akerson, will become the first female CEO in company history and the 22nd woman to currently lead a Fortune 500 company. GM, No. 7 in the most recent Fortune 500, will be the largest company in the United States to be run by a woman. GM is one of DiversityInc’s 25 Noteworthy Companies.
“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,” Barra said in a statement. “I’m honored to lead the best team in the business and to keep our momentum at full speed.”
Barra presently is Executive Vice President, Global Product Development & Global Purchasing and Supply Chain. According to the Associated Press, her role as head of product development is considered by many to be the most important job at the company. She is responsible for the design, engineering, program management and quality of General Motors vehicles around the world.
Erik Gordon, a business professor at the University of Michigan, told the AP that Barrawhose father worked at GM for 39 years and who herself has never worked elsewhereis more than qualified to lead the company going forward. “There’s nobody with more years of honest ‘car-guy’ credentials than she has,” Gordon said. “She started off as a little-girl car guy. She became a big-girl car guy and now she’s a woman car guy. She’s the one to do the breakthrough.” Akerson and his predecessor, Ed Whitacre, came from the finance and telecommunications, respectively.
Akerson may have hinted at Barra’s appointment in September, when he told a women’s business group that he envisioned a female one day leading one of Detroit’s Big Three automakers. “The fact that none of them has run a major car company makes no sense,” he said.
Barra began her GM career in 1980 at the age of 18, as a co-op student in the Pontiac division of General Motors Institute (now known as Kettering University). She worked in engineering before moving into management, rising from Executive Director of Competitive Operations Engineering to Plant Manager of Detroit Hamtramck Assembly to Vice President, Global Manufacturing Engineering to Vice President, Global Human Resources.
She beat out three other internal candidates for CEO: General Motors North America President Mark Reuss, Vice Chairman Steve Girsky, and Senior Vice President, Chief Financial Officer Dan Ammann. Reuss and Ammann were also promoted, while Girsky is leaving the company in April.
Barra will be GM’s fifth CEO in five years, instability brought about by a 2009 bankruptcy filing and the government bailout. (The Treasury Department announced on Monday that it had sold all of its remaining shares in the company.) However, its fortunes are trending in the right direction: The company has had 15 straight quarters of profitability, expects to sell more than 10 million vehicles this year, and its shares are up more than 40 percent in 2013.