GM first: Mary Barra picked as new chief executive

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Mary Barra became the first woman at the top level of the United States automotive industry Dec. 11 when she was named chief executive of General Motors.

Barra, 51, the currrent executive vice president of global product development and global purchasing, will replace current chief executive Dan Akerson on Jan. 15.

The selection of Barra to lead GM marked the latest among several appointments of woman chief executives to corporations long dominated by men.

Mary Barra will become the new chief executive of GM on Jan. 15, 2014.
Mary Barra will become the new chief executive of GM on Jan. 15, 2014.

Last year, the technology firm Yahoo named a woman as president and CEO. Also, women have been named in recent years to run defense contractors General Dynamics Corp. and Lockheed Martin as well as computer giants IBM and Hewlett-Packard.

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Barra’s promotion came one day after the federal government announced the sale of its final remaining shares in the iconic automaker, marking the end of the darkest chapter in the company’s history. The investment by the federal government during the height of the financial crisis prevented GM from collapsing, and the company has emerged leaner and highly profitable in the years since.

“With an amazing portfolio of cars and trucks and the strongest financial performance in our recent history, this is an exciting time at today’s GM,” Barra, a 33-year employee of the company, said in a statement. “I’m honored to lead the best team in the business and to keep our momentum at full speed.”

Although GM is stronger than it has been in decades, Barra will face significant challenges when she takes over the company. The firm is losing money in Europe and its big bet on the Chevrolet Volt electric car has yet to pay off.

But analysts called Barra well equipped to grapple with those issues. “Barra has spent her professional career in the car industry, and she has earned her stripes in a succession of manufacturing and engineering positions,” said Jack R. Nerad, executive editorial director and an analyst at Kelly Blue Book.

“As the current product chief for General Motors, she has overseen the corporation’s improvement in product quality and has benefited from the critical success of many new GM vehicles, including the Cadillac CTS and Chevrolet Impala.”

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