A roundup of media coverage of Mary Barra, new GM CEO
Mary Barra '85 began her career with GM in 1980 as a General Motors Institute (Kettering University) co-op student at the Pontiac Motor Division.
Mary Barra ‘85 was named the new CEO of General Motors, succeeding the retiring Dan Akerson, the company announced on Dec. 10. Barra will be the first female CEO of a major automaker.
Barra began her career with GM in 1980 as a General Motors Institute (Kettering University) co-op student at the Pontiac Motor Division. She graduated in 1985 from Kettering University with a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering. In 1988 Barra was awarded a GM fellowship and in 1990 she graduated from the Stanford Graduate School of Business with a Masters degree in Business Administration.
Below is a summary of prominent international, national and statewide media attention that GM’s announcement received pertaining to Barra’s appointment:
Kettering University President Robert McMahan was traveling in China a few months ago when he bumped into one of the university's board members at an airport in Shanghai.
Mary Barra, the busy global product development chief at General Motors Co., might have just said hello and turned back to her phone. Instead, she had a long discussion with McMahan's teenage son about his education and his efforts to learn Mandarin.
"I turned to my son after she left and said, 'I put a month's pay on the fact that you just met the next president and CEO of GM,'" McMahan said. "Even he, as a 16-year-old, was impressed by her approachability."
McMahan has worked with Barra , a Kettering trustee, since he became the university's seventh president in 2011, and said she impressed him immediately because of her deep knowledge of her industry, her humility and approachability.
"I've come to know many executives in the U.S. and abroad," he said. "She is among the standouts. I haven't seen a weakness."
Barra, a 1985 graduate of Kettering, was appointed a trustee for the university in December 2009.
"I am a fan of hers and have been since I've known and started to work with her," McMahan said. "We are making history today, and I believe she will help redefine the industry."
The announcement that Mary T. Barra will become the first female chief executive of General Motors is more than a human resources changeup. It’s a nod to the changing times.
Her appointment culminates a period when women in the auto industry have been taking over senior roles in traditionally male-dominated areas like purchasing, manufacturing and quality control.
As senior vice president for global product development for the past two years, Barra, 51, has had her fingers on the pulse of the giant automaker's entire car and truck portfolio worldwide. The position brought her into direct contact with the cutting edge of the company — which vehicles are needed around the globe, and how different markets can share them.
As if the job weren't big enough, last August she was given the added responsibility of GM's entire purchasing and supply chain worldwide and became executive vice president. That put her in direct control of overseeing the thousands of suppliers and parts subsidiaries that account for everything that's needed to create a modern vehicle. It's an area where automakers are constantly tweaking in search of greater efficiencies and savings. It also can be a major headache, since mistakes made at the supplier level reflect on the automaker, not just the supplier.
The move will make 33-year GM veteran Barra the first woman to lead a global automaker. Arguably, it will make her the highest-profile female CEO in the world.
Besides having a knack for climbing the corporate ladder -- she started at GM as a student intern -- Barra is the living embodiment of Teddy Roosevelt's admonition to speak softly but carry a big stick. With a keen eye for spotting incidents of corporate idiocy, she manages to correct or reverse them with a steely resolve delivered with a soft message. She is that rare executive who doesn't ignore common sense when faced with a complicated problem.
Barra is known as a consensus-builder, rather than relying on a top-down management style. In her different roles, she instituted team-building efforts and “hall meetings” to seek outside advice on projects as a way to challenge design and engineering leaders to reexamine their assumptions. She also restructured some traditional GM processes so that decisions about key projects were made early and not prolonged.
She also pushed GM to make practical, gas-sipping cars that also boast a sleek design. In 2011, she pressed the company to fund the development of a full line of fuel-efficient engines. Some of the vehicles she successfully shepherded are the Cadillac ELR plug-in hybrid and the revamped Chevrolet Impala.
When she gave the June commencement speech at her alma mater Kettering University in Flint, Mary Barra seemed to foreshadow the history-making role she will assume in mid-January when she becomes the first woman to work as CEO of General Motors.
“Things will happen to you. Opportunities will arise that you simply cannot imagine today,” Barra told the class of 2013 graduates.
Barra's rise to the top is one way for General Motors to demonstrate a fresh, invigorated culture, four years after its own bankruptcy and government-imposed reorganization.
The automaker’s news this week — from shedding the government’s stake to naming a female CEO — also provides a reassuring model for the city of Detroit. It shows that hitting the bottom, and even bankruptcy, can be a crucible for constructive change.
She studied engineering at Kettering University in Flint when it was still known as General Motors Institute, and started working at GM as a co-op student. Her first job was in the Pontiac assembly plant. She climbed the corporate ladder rung by rung, holding a variety of positions in operations throughout the company and world, and most recently served as head of global product development.
Barra is an engineer, not a bean counter. She knows cars and trucks. That sets her apart from many of the more recent Detroit automotive heads.
Barra was already the highest ranking woman executive in GM's history, and considered one of the most influential women in the manufacturing world. Her status is now considerably higher. She takes control of GM as the company addresses the realities of the 21st century, which includes designing and producing newer, smarter, and more efficient cars faster than before.