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GM hires product chief to lead company

Last modified: 12/12/2013 12:33:21 AM
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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