We're on the Blackfoot
The old boys club steering General Motors Co. for the past 105 years was shaken up Tuesday with the announcement Mary Barra would become the company’s first female chief executive — a first for GM and the global auto industry.
The news was a significant milestone in cracking the glass ceiling for female executives. Ms. Barra will join the likes of Ginni Rometty at International Business Machines Corp. and Indra Nooyi at PepsiCo Inc. in leading one of the world’s largest iconic brands.
GM said Ms. Barra, 51, will take over from Dan Akerson, 65, when he steps down as chairman and chief executive on January 15, 2014.
“It’s an honor for me to be able to lead this team and to continue the momentum to have the best cars, trucks and crossovers with the highest quality and continue to drive value for our shareholders and all of our stakeholders,” Ms. Barra said.
Mr. Akerson described Ms. Barra as both “eminently qualified” and “well-received” within the company. He also credited her for bringing order to the company’s product development strategy at a time when the Detroit automaker was thrown into chaos in the depth of the economic crisis.
He said Ms. Barra was no token appointment. “Mary was not picked because of her gender,” Mr. Akerson said on a conference call. “Mary’s one of the most gifted executives I’ve met in my career. She was picked for her talent not her gender, not for political correctness [nor] anything of that order.”
Mr. Akerson said he informed Ms. Barra personally of her appointment in a private conversation, and equated it to the sort of pride a father f eels when watching his daughter graduate from college.
Ms. Barra is among a group of female executives who have been making inroads in the auto industry in recent years, including Dianne Craig, who was appointed chief executive of Ford Motor Co. of Canada in 2011.
Mr. Akerson said the notion that GM is an old boys club is a dated one. “I would assert that’s an old perception of General Motors,” Mr. Ackerson said. He noted women run a quarter of the company’s plants; a number of senior engineering jobs are held by women; and five members of the company’s board are female, including Ms. Barra.
“GM is in more than capable hands as we’ve seen some of the best products released under Mary Barra, who has helped to oversee the development of their vehicles on a global scale,” said Jared Rowe, Kelley Blue Book, president. “Now that the company has also been freed from government ownership, Mary has the opportunity to see the company continue to develop vehicles that consumers want to drive while improving its continued profitability,” he added.
Ms. Barra has more than 33 years of experience at GM and is well respected within the company. She is credited with helping with the ongoing turnaround and revitalizing of GM’s cars and trucks with top selling models like the Chevy Impala, most recently filling the role of executive vice-president of global product development, purchasing and supply chain.
Ms. Barra, the daughter of a Pontiac die-maker, began her career at GM in 1980 as a co-op student on the factory floor in the Pontiac Motor Division, and received her MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business in 1990.
Ms. Barra beat out Mark Ruess, GM North American president, and Dan Ammann, GM chief financial officer, in the competition for the top job. GM said Mr. Ammann would take over as president of the company, while Mr. Ruess would succeed Ms. Barra as executive vice-president of global product development, purchasing and supply chain. Mr. Akerson said Ms. Barra’s immediate challenges would be to execute on the company’s product strategy, including reducing the number of global platforms it has, upgrading its powertrain capabilities, and addressing the issues in its international operations, including in Europe.
“As far as we’ve come, we must travel that much further to achieve the greatness this company once represented in corporate and global business,” he said.