The way forward for General Motors Corp. will be led by a precedent-busting female executive who has spent the past two-and-a-half years leading the company’s product development efforts worldwide.
Mary Barra, 51, in January will become not only the first female CEO of a U.S. car company, she’ll be the first woman to head any major auto company. She succeeds retiring GM CEO Dan Akerson.
Barra appears to have been hand-picked by Akerson for the job, though her appointment was approved by GM’s board. Results apparently matter.
For instance, the new Corvette is the best high dollar-for-dollar performance car in the world. And the 2014 Chevrolet Impala is the highest-rated sedan tested by Consumer Reports. Both arrived under her watch.
Looking back, a glowing profile of her in The Wall Street Journal in 2011 was prescient. The WSJ portrayed her as a bureaucracy-bashing crusader whose job would be to “supercharge the design and development of new cars and trucks stalled during the company's bankruptcy restructuring” and “shake up the auto maker's famously plodding corporate culture – a task others have tackled to little effect over the decades.”
Apparently she’s been very effective. Senior engineers inside GM tell me she’s smart, fair, accessible and quick to make decisions. Those are all good qualities in a CEO.
Barra, as the WSJ noted in 2011, took over GM product development after spending “most of her time in manufacturing, and most recently headed human resources.” While human resources doesn’t seem like a launching pad for a GM CEO, what appears to have set her apart is a reputation for blunt talk and a bias for action.
Barra clearly has had some success at dismantling GM’s bureaucracy, driving into showrooms those new Corvettes, new Impalas and more. Her reward: the corner office. Now that GM is no longer Government Motors, the real work begins.
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