She's known as the person who restored order at GM.

As General Motors fought to find its footing following bankruptcy, Mary Barra was tasked with managing the guts of its revival. Now she's known as the person who restored order at GM. In less than three years in her role as global product development chief, Barra moved at a dizzying pace and helped to return both confidence and profit to the once-beleaguered automaker. On Tuesday, she was rewarded for her efforts. Barra, 51, was named CEO of General Motors. She is the first woman to lead a US car company.

"Mary went into an organization that, frankly, four years ago was in chaos," said outgoing CEO Dan Akerson, who announced his retirement at the same time. "She was central to the whole evolution." Against the improbable backdrop of GM's federal bailout, Barra spearheaded the revitalization of the company's lineup of cars, implemented widespread supply-chain changes and oversaw the creation of engine and vehicle strategies that, by decade's end, will result in 90 percent of the company's cars being produced on five or fewer platforms.

Akerson called the global product development role, "the most complicated," in the company. If there was anyone suited for such a role, it was Barra. For more than three decades, she has been a jack-of-all-trades at GM, rising through a series of manufacturing, engineering and human resource positions. She started her career at GM as an intern in 1980, and has worked on factory floors, once as manager at the company's Hamtramck Assembly Plant in Detroit, and she also served as executive director of the company's engineering operations.
Mary Barra Speaks About Being Named CEO of General Motors

"What a tremendous culmination of Mary Barra's career at GM," Karl Brauer, senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book, told Autoblog. "She has truly climbed the corporate ladder through dedication and hard work. Her history and performance across multiple departments at General Motors has clearly given Dan Akerson and the board tremendous confidence in her ability to successfully lead the largest US automaker."

Barra's appointment marks the first time that someone with an engineering background has risen to the top.

Her status as the first woman to lead a company in an industry that many perceive as a boys club was duly noted during Tuesday's announcement, but it might be another outsider credential that affects the day-to-day operations of GM. Financial analysts have noted that Barra's appointment marks the first time that someone with an engineering background has risen to the top, as opposed to the well-traveled path of executives ascending from the company's financial arms. That's a good thing, they say.

"We believe the focus on effective product development and engineering processes will become more prevalent within GM with Barra's promotion, and will be part of the company's evolution and ongoing improvement," Barclays equity research said in a written statement.

For a company that seems to be putting its bankruptcy in the rear-view mirror, her hiring is perhaps a sign that General Motors can focus on cars as much as the finances.

"It could be interpreted as a signal that GM believes it's as much a car-making company as a money-making company," said Edmunds senior analyst Bill Visnic. "I think it's an important signal that as GM sheds the last of its financially-focused baggage, it's choosing an engineer to start a new era and frame the company's revised vision."

Barra, who graduated from Kettering University with a degree in electrical engineering, takes over at a time that is at once promising and perilous. One day before her tenure began, the US Treasury Department sold its last remaining stock in GM, and the company is now free from US taxpayer involvement. "Detroit is back, and GM could lead the way forward on the equity front," Dallas-based Hayman Capital told Bloomberg News last week.

GM's Mary Barra with Buick Encore at reveal

Of more pressing concern is that even with a revamped lineup that includes the Chevy Impala and Cadillac ATS and Buick Encore, GM is in the midst of a fierce fight to retain its market share in North America and grow operations despite the ongoing recession in Europe.

Akerson: "I don't want to get too corny here, but it was like watching your daughter graduating from college."

"I think we have made great progress, and my message to folks today was, you know, as far as we've come, we must travel that much further to achieve the greatness this company once represented," Akerson said. Akerson, 65, said he had not anticipated retiring until the second half of 2014. But his wife was recently diagnosed with cancer, and that sped up his timeline. He said the board did not seriously consider any outside candidates, and that there were several qualified internal candidates. He was pleased to see Barra earn the job. "I don't want to get too corny here, but it was like watching your daughter graduating from college," he said.

Former GM chairman and CEO Ed Whitacre praised Barra's hiring: "It's a huge company and has a lot of moving parts," he said. "It's a very competitive business. You have to have really good products and you have to keep them coming. She'll have to balance all those balls and continue to go forward. I think they're doing great. I think she can continue that."


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  • 58 Comments
      icemilkcoffee
      • 1 Year Ago
      Good to hear she has a technical backgruond, and not a sales, marketing or finance background, as is usually the case in corporate boardrooms.
      redgpgtp97
      • 1 Year Ago
      Keep up the good work by offering refreshed models every 5 yrs, quality interiors, and fuel efficient dependable drivetrains.
        • 1 Year Ago
        @redgpgtp97
        [blocked]
      TopGun
      • 1 Year Ago
      Gotta say I would have liked to have seen Reuss in there. If product is king, then it's pretty tough to beat someone like that.
        Jerry
        • 1 Year Ago
        @TopGun
        I agree. I hope Barra is up for it. Reuss would have been for sure.
      lad
      • 1 Year Ago
      GM now has an Electrical Engineer at the top. Perhaps EVs are in the company's future.
        Bandit5317
        • 1 Year Ago
        @lad
        They undoubtedly will be, but not because she's an EE. All car manufacturers know that electric cars will eventually be more economical and practical, the question is when. Oil is a finite resource, and it will be impractically expensive long before it's all gone as the easy to get to deposits dry up. Also, GM already has the Volt, the (overpriced) ELR, and the Spark EV. I'm in my Junior year of a Bachelor's in EE, and I, along with many of my peers, love big V8s as much as anyone.
        • 1 Year Ago
        @lad
        [blocked]
      Xedicon
      • 1 Year Ago
      Is there any guarantee that GM will continue to prosper under Barra? No, but that would be true of anyone who got the job. I for one am very happy for her and to see her take the helm at GM. There's a lot of nonsensical comments here deriding Barra simply because she's a woman which is ridiculous; even the tiniest amount of research on her background clearly shows she's qualified for the job.
      Avinash Machado
      • 1 Year Ago
      Hope she will help steer GM properly.
      Hampton
      • 1 Year Ago
      Seems more of a political appointment. "Coalition builder" hmm,Where have We heard THAT before? Taking 10 billion of our tax dollars seems to have bought some power in a very big corporation to move some policy
      Seal Rchin
      • 1 Year Ago
      I have a question for Mr. Barra, on the picture you are standing next to a Buick Encore, a car that tops out at 35K...................how come it does not have a central arm rest. Where should your and passengers arm go? You want a BMW money but giving people something even Versa does not omit. If she was in charge of product development why is she not taking heat for developing that turd?
        MistyGreen
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Seal Rchin
        ..except the Encore has an armrest. Was there another point in there? Also, if you don't like a car, don't buy it.
        Dave
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Seal Rchin
        http://www.autoblog.com/photos/2013-buick-encore-review/#photo-468624 http://www.autoblog.com/photos/2013-buick-encore-review/#photo-468626 Looks like the armrest is there to me...
        Basil Exposition
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Seal Rchin
        This is a photograph of the interior of a Buick Encore: http://www.autoblog.com/photos/2013-buick-encore-review/#photo-468627 What do you think that thing sticking out between the driver and passenger seatbacks is? Now shut up you tool.
        OptimusPrimeRib
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Seal Rchin
        A $23k Honda Civic comes with navigation but a $50k 5 series doesn't have one. Your point?
          Dixon Ticonderoga
          • 1 Year Ago
          @OptimusPrimeRib
          It's annoying, but you get used to it. Not having an arm rest (especially in a manual) is much less annoying than not having a proper place to put my left foot. YMMV, but I've lived with both.
          smilez1105
          • 1 Year Ago
          @OptimusPrimeRib
          He doesn't believe in facts. Photo evidence is not a fact...that can be doctored for all we know. Not to mention, he preaches THE TRUTH! Just ask him.
          Seal Rchin
          • 1 Year Ago
          @OptimusPrimeRib
          That's a luxury item, armrest is a basic necessity, i know of only one other car that use to come without it. Did you buy a car without an armrest? BTW try driving home today without putting your right arm on the armrest.............tell me tomorrow how was it Optimus.
        classasurface
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Seal Rchin
        Mr?
      • 1 Year Ago
      [blocked]
      Juan
      • 1 Year Ago
      She can't any worse than those before her.
      classasurface
      • 1 Year Ago
      ...and now for a completely different opinion: http://www.autoextremist.com/
        Seal Rchin
        • 1 Year Ago
        @classasurface
        "by promoting bureaucratic functionaries like Mary Barra and a glorified bean counter who shares his skewed perspectives of the world - Dan Ammann - to lofty positions - than Do the Right Thing for the company. (I'm sure people will heap derision on me for not willingly anointing Mary Barra as someone deserving of the title. I am already wincing at the articles gushing drivel about the "car girl" getting her due and other such nonsense. I have nothing against Barra. I do, however, have everything against the willful, malicious manipulation of a succession plan that Akerson just pulled off. If Mary Barra was the most qualified individual walking the halls of GM I would wholeheartedly support the choice. But the simple fact is that she isn't.)" wow
        Tiberius1701
        • 1 Year Ago
        @classasurface
        All the folks who downvote this have NO clue. Pete DeLorenzo has his ear to the rail and knows so much more about what goes on in The Motor City than most anyone I have ever encountered. So hate on. I will trust his opinions any time.
          David MacGillis
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Tiberius1701
          Peter Michael DeLorenzo is a gasbag of the highest order and has imagined more than he knows.
      davido
      • 1 Year Ago
      An engineer, running a car company. Seems obvious. Don't know why it took so long.
        Tiberius1701
        • 1 Year Ago
        @davido
        Except she is not an engineeer, her background is HR.
          David MacGillis
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Tiberius1701
          Her HR experience is just a tiny portion of her background. She\'s an engineer. Nothing wrong with having diverse experience.
          MF
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Tiberius1701
          you obviously did not read anything about her.. EE undergrad and MBA.. more years in engineering and operations than HR
        • 1 Year Ago
        @davido
        [blocked]
          Aurio Salimonne
          • 1 Year Ago
          HE WAS NEW FOR THE WHOLE ORGANIZATION,she is been with GM for 30 years and was there as a secretary for one of the worst managers,Roger Smith.....remember,Buick Reatta,Cadillac Allante,Cuttlas Sierra International series,Chevy Lumina,the whole GEO and Saturn mess and her last effort was to bring the ELR to the market a little late!
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