General Motors will become the first international auto maker to be led by a woman next month when Co-CEO Dan Akerson steps down and is replaced by Mary Barra, 51. Barra is said to be a long time GM employee who is currently the chief of their global product market, but actually her relationship to General Motors goes back beyond her lifetime.
Barra’s father was a die maker who worked for General Motors for 39 years when the company was America’s most successful and powerful auto company.
Barra will be the first woman to be a chief executive of a major auto company, but many business insiders see this move as surprising not only because she is a woman. Barra has been with GM for 33 years, her entire career, and interestingly is an engineer.
In the past GM was a company headed by engineers, but lately the company has watched executive after executive come from a business background. Investors have criticized some of these moves claiming that executives with a business background sometimes lack knowledge in the product department.
Barra on the other hand has years of experience in the plant and also has seen time running human resources. Currently her job focuses on developing products and relationships with purchasers and suppliers. Now investors will have to wait and see if they were right all along to crave a product minded leader or if they will feel she lacks business expertise.
One of the major questions facing this nomination is how Barra will handle the many innovations Akerson began and continued while co-CEO. Many of Akerson’s accomplishments included moving the company into a more culturally and globally attuned position in the global market. Some wonder if Barra’s strong roots to the company and its history as an American institution could challenge that development, but those objections appear to be more conjectures than concerns based in fact.
Barra will be the fifth CEO GM has had in as many years. Akerson was planning to step down in late 2014, but decided to expedite the process after he learned his wife was diagnosed with an advanced form of cancer.
Stock holders will certainly hope that Barra can restore some semblance of stability to the company. GM’s last long term CEO was the infamous Rick Wagoner who also has the dubious honor of being named one of the worst CEO’s in 2008. He was forced to resign by the Obama administration in March of 2009 when GM began filing for bankruptcy.
Barra is married and has two children, a son and a daughter. After her appointment GM shares fell 0.5 percent. They were listed at 40.70 dollars as of Tuesday morning.
The good news for GM is that since it filed for bankruptcy it has made gains of almost 20 billion dollars. Challenges for Barra include running General Motors more efficiently and also making better relationships in global markets such as South America and India.
Akerson supported General Motors’ decision to name Barra CEO saying, “This is an executive who has a vision of where she wants to take the organization,” Akerson said.
General Motor’s decision to appoint Barra is groundbreaking; they become the first major car company to be lead by a woman. However, don’t expect Barra’s gender to define her role for long this company is still desperately climbing to be back where it once was, a top the automotive industry.
By Nick Manai