On Tuesday, General Motors (GM) announced that it had named long-time executive Mary Barra to replace current CEO Dan AKERSON, making her the first woman chief executive in a car industry dominated by men.
Mary Barra, who currently is the executive vice president of global product development and global purchasing for GM, will take over her new post on January 15. Dan Akerson is taking an early retirement to be by his wife Karin’s side as she fights cancer.
The naming of Barra, 51, as chief executive follows a recent trend with major corporations, many of which have selected women to lead their companies. Corporations that have named women to run their organizations in recent years include Yahoo, who last year named a women as president and CEO, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and Lockheed Martin.
The announcement of the promotion of Mary Barra came a day after the federal government said it had sold the last of its shares in the American automaker, ending one of the lowest points in GM’s history. During the financial crisis that started in 2008, the manufacturer was rescued from bankruptcy as part of a massive bailout program for struggling American businesses.
“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, who has been with the company for 33 years, said in a statement. “I’m honored to lead the best team in the business and to keep our momentum at full speed.”
The newly appointed CEO has been an instrumental figure in GM’s comeback. Since 2010, the auto giant made almost $20 billion by marketing exciting new models of cars and trucks, many of which Ms. Barra helped develop. However, the new executive faces several significant challenges as the company is losing money in Europe and struggling to win over buyers in South America.
Mary Barra joined GM as an engineering student and was later promoted to plant manager, followed by executive director of engineering, and head of human resources. Past and present GM executives say unanimously that Mary Barra has a reputation as a tough manager that is able to take the lead and rally people to her side.
Mary Barra grew up in Pontiac, Michigan in family closely tied to the auto industry. Her father retired from GM after working there for 39 years as a die maker.
Erik Gordon, a professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business says Mary Barra has the advantage of being an industry insider, in contrast to the two previous CEOs who were outsiders with no previous leadership experience in the auto industry.