Mary Barra named CEO of GM

12:10 PM, Dec 10, 2013   |    comments
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(Paul Morigi/Getty Images)

(USA TODAY) -- Mary Barra, 51, has been named the new CEO at General Motors, the first woman to hold the top job at a major automaker.

She takes over Jan. 15 from Dan Akerson. He's been CEO and chairman of the GM board since Sept. 1, 2010. Akerson, 65, said he accelerated the transition by several months, after his wife recently was diagnosed with an advanced stage of cancer.

Barra is executive vice president of GM's global product development, purchasing and supply chain.

"What a tremendous culmination of Mary Barra's career at GM. As someone who started with the company as an intern in 1980, she has truly climbed the corporate ladder through dedication and hard work," said Karl Brauer, senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book.

"I will leave with great satisfaction in what we have accomplished, great optimism over what is ahead and great pride that we are restoring General Motors as America's standard bearer in the global auto industry," Akerson said in a message to employees.

Akerson oversaw GM's return to the stock exchange as a public company with an initial public stock offering November 2010, as the big automaker emerged from its Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization. He has overseen some of the car company's most profitable quarters.

GM vehicles have vaulted up the awards ladder and reliability scales under Akerson. His training is in finance and engineering and he was a surprise pick. Akerson was derided at first for not being a "car guy."

Akerson worked hard on the less-flashy parts of the car business that GM has done poorly.

•He integrated the company's accounting system so it could tell the source of its profits and losses. Previously the maker assigned those to the factory that made the vehicle, instead of the country in which it was sold.

•Akerson insisted on a business plan to justify new drivetrains, instead of simply accepting engineers' and planners' assertions that a new engine or transmission was necessary for a new car or truck.

•He demanded a streamlined in-house computer system that could more simply back up the company's files and easily track the manufacturing process.

•Akerson pushed hard for quicker adopting of available telecommunications technology. He walked out of a meeting when he was told a feature would be in a few years from now, instead of immediately.

•He dismantled what he considered the overly lavish executive suites, replacing them with smaller, more utilitarian spaces. "They can walk down the hall to use the bathroom like everybody else," he commented to USA TODAY.

Barra was on of four candidates being considered for the CEO job.

The others:

•Dan Ammann, 41, CFO. He'll become GM president, in charge of managing the company's regional operations around the world. The global Chevrolet and Cadillac brand organizations and GM Financial will also report to Ammann.

Ammann joined GM in 2010. His first job was to manage GM's IPO.

Ammann will retain CFO responsibilities at least through the release of the company's fourth quarter and full-year 2013 results in early February 2014. His replacement as CFO will be named later.

"We have a significant opportunity to further integrate and optimize our operations to deliver even better results," said Ammann. "While we have made good progress, we still have much work ahead of us to realize GM's full potential."

•Mark Reuss, 50, executive vice president and president, North America. He will replace Barra as executive vice president for global product development, purchasing and supply chain.

Reuss is a hands-on product manager who said in an interview at the Los Angeles auto show last month that he wasn't sure he wanted the CEO post. "I love having a direct impact on what's in the showroom. Do I want to give that up?"

He insisted, for instance, that Cadillac's popular ATS small sedan use proprietary chassis and other hardware that could be tuned for the proper handling and driving feel. He boldly cast is as a rival to the best German small sedans.

Adapting a chassis that GM already had in production would have been much quicker and cheaper, but he insisted that would compromise the car.

He also has overseen development of the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra full-size pickups, the Chevy Corvette and Impala.

He called his new job "The best seat to have," and said, "We're going to keep the pedal down on GM's product resurgence."

Alan Batey, currently senior vice president, Global Chevrolet and U.S. Sales and Marketing, will replace Reuss.

•Steve Girsky, 51, vice chairman in charge of corporate strategy, business development and global product planning. He will move to a senior adviser role until leaving the company in April 2014. He will remain on the GM board.

Girsky came to GM from Wall Street, where his investment advice wasn't always complimentary toward GM.

He has been leading GM's turnaround plan in Europe. He also worked with GM's OnStar unit to keep it competitive at a time of rapid changes in vehicle connectivity, and he helped create GM Ventures to speed the commercialization of new technologies in GM vehicles.

Akerson has been frustrated that GM seems to invent many things, and use only a few of them.

"I share Dan's pride for what the company has accomplished and his sense of optimism for a bright future," said Girsky. "This team is united in its commitment to building on the foundation that we have established."


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