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GM hires product chief to lead company

Barra first woman to lead car company

  •  In this 1980 file photo, Federal Reserve Board Chairman Paul Volcker listens to a question as he appears before the Senate Banking Committee in Washington, D.C. The Federal Reserve and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. each unanimously voted to adopt the so-called Volcker Rule, taking a major step toward preventing extreme risk-taking on Wall Street that helped trigger the 2008 financial crisis. AP file photo

    In this 1980 file photo, Federal Reserve Board Chairman Paul Volcker listens to a question as he appears before the Senate Banking Committee in Washington, D.C. The Federal Reserve and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. each unanimously voted to adopt the so-called Volcker Rule, taking a major step toward preventing extreme risk-taking on Wall Street that helped trigger the 2008 financial crisis. AP file photo

  • FILE - In this Jan. 14, 2013, file photo, General Motors Senior Vice President Mary Barra is seen during presentation of the North American Car & Truck of the Year at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Barra was named GM CEO on Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013, making her the first woman to lead a U.S. car company. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File)

    FILE - In this Jan. 14, 2013, file photo, General Motors Senior Vice President Mary Barra is seen during presentation of the North American Car & Truck of the Year at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Barra was named GM CEO on Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013, making her the first woman to lead a U.S. car company. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File)

  • FILE - In this Jan. 10, 2012 file photo, Mary Barra, General Motors Senior Vice President, Global Product Development, speaks at the debut of the 2013 Buick Encore at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. A person briefed on the matter on Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013 said General Motors' board has named Barra as the company's next CEO. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)

    FILE - In this Jan. 10, 2012 file photo, Mary Barra, General Motors Senior Vice President, Global Product Development, speaks at the debut of the 2013 Buick Encore at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. A person briefed on the matter on Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013 said General Motors' board has named Barra as the company's next CEO. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)

  • FILE - In this March 6, 2013 file photo, General Motors chairman and CEO Daniel Akerson speaks at the IHS CERAWEEK energy conference in Houston.  A person briefed on the matter on Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013 said General Motors' board has named product development chief Mary Barra as the company's next CEO. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan, File)

    FILE - In this March 6, 2013 file photo, General Motors chairman and CEO Daniel Akerson speaks at the IHS CERAWEEK energy conference in Houston. A person briefed on the matter on Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013 said General Motors' board has named product development chief Mary Barra as the company's next CEO. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan, File)

  •  In this 1980 file photo, Federal Reserve Board Chairman Paul Volcker listens to a question as he appears before the Senate Banking Committee in Washington, D.C. The Federal Reserve and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. each unanimously voted to adopt the so-called Volcker Rule, taking a major step toward preventing extreme risk-taking on Wall Street that helped trigger the 2008 financial crisis. AP file photo
  • FILE - In this Jan. 14, 2013, file photo, General Motors Senior Vice President Mary Barra is seen during presentation of the North American Car & Truck of the Year at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Barra was named GM CEO on Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013, making her the first woman to lead a U.S. car company. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File)
  • FILE - In this Jan. 10, 2012 file photo, Mary Barra, General Motors Senior Vice President, Global Product Development, speaks at the debut of the 2013 Buick Encore at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. A person briefed on the matter on Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013 said General Motors' board has named Barra as the company's next CEO. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)
  • FILE - In this March 6, 2013 file photo, General Motors chairman and CEO Daniel Akerson speaks at the IHS CERAWEEK energy conference in Houston.  A person briefed on the matter on Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013 said General Motors' board has named product development chief Mary Barra as the company's next CEO. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan, File)

Mary Barra has spent the past three years as General Motors’s product chief, making cars that drive better, last longer and look good in showrooms.

Now she will take on an even bigger job. Yesterday, the board named the 33-year company veteran CEO, making her the first woman to lead a U.S. car company.

Barra replaces Dan Akerson, who moved up retirement plans by several months to help his wife, Karin, battle advanced cancer.

When Barra starts her new job Jan. 15, she will lead a company that’s made nearly $20 billion since emerging from bankruptcy in 2010, much of it from the cars and trucks she helped develop. But she still faces challenges of paring down costs and winning over buyers in international markets.

Akerson, 65, said he had planned to stay at least until spring, but his wife’s diagnosis changed that. He said the board unanimously picked Barra from several internal candidates because of the breadth of her experience, her management record, her people skills and her understanding of GM’s operations.

“This is an executive who has a vision of where she wants to take the organization,” he said.

Since February 2011, Barra has held what many say is the most important job at GM – senior vice president for global product development. She joined the company in 1980 as an engineering student and became a plant manager, executive director of engineering and head of human resources.

Along the way, she earned a reputation as a manager who made tough decisions, yet was able to get people to follow her lead and work as a team, according to current and former GM executives.

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