General Motors global product chief Mary Barra has been named the new CEO. Barra is one of Forbes’ World’s 100 Most Powerful Women, and she is now the first CEO of a major automaker and one of a few to ever head a major industrial corporation.
Barra, 51, has been with GM for her entire career, beginning in 1980. Barra’s father, a 39 year GM tool-and-die maker, retired the same year she began her GM career. With 33 years of experience at GM, Barra has risen through a series of manufacturing, engineering, and senior staff positions. She is 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.
“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 honored to lead the best team in the business and to keep our momentum at full speed.”
Barra, 51, takes over on Jan 15 from Dan Akerson, who has been CEO and chairman since Sept 1, 2010. She was named Senior Vice President, Global Product Development effective Feb 1, 2011, responsible for the design, engineering, program management and quality of General Motors vehicles around the world. Barra has had the pulse of the giant automaker’s entire car and truck portfolio worldwide in her hands. She was in direct contact with the cutting edge of the company — which vehicles are needed around the globe, and how different markets can share them.
On August 1, 2013, she assumed responsibility for GM’s Global Purchasing and Supply Chain organization and was named Executive Vice President, Global Product Development & Global Purchasing and Supply Chain. This position put her in direct control of overseeing the suppliers and parts subsidiaries that account for everything that’s needed to create GM’s vehicles. She is a member of the GM Executive Operations Committee and serves on the Adam Opel AG Supervisory Board.
Barra went to public schools in Waterford Township, Mich. She started her GM career as an intern in 1980, when she went to the Pontiac division as a “co-op student” through General Motors Institute, now Kettering University. She earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and in 1990, she graduated with a Masters in Business Administration from the Stanford Graduate School of Business.
Since women are responsible for 80% of the car buying decisions, some wonder why it has taken so long for women to reach this coveted position. Her late mother was a bookkeeper and in her younger years, Barra gravitated towards math and science. As a mother of two teens, and even with her busy schedule, she is a champion supporting young women and girls to help get them interested in math and science.
She has smashed that glass ceiling for the women in the auto business. Her advice to young women and men hoping to move up the corporate ladder:
“You need to do a great job and you will get noticed,” she said. “Great leaders will naturally give you advice once you’ve earned it.”