General Motors Co. (GM) CEO Dan Ackerson today officially announced that he’s retiring in January. And his successor just made global automotive industry history. GM confirmed rumors circulating throughout Detroit that longtime company executive Mary Barra would take the helm, becoming the world’s first female CEO of an automaker.
Barra, 51, joined GM as a factory floor intern 33 years ago, steadily climbing the corporate ranks over the next three decades. Her first official job with the company was as a plant engineer in the Pontiac Motor Division, where her father had worked for 39 years as a dye maker. She immediately stood out in the profession where there were few women and even fewer 18-year-olds.
“It was a rougher environment,” she said in an interview with reporters earlier this year. “It makes you harder.”
Young Barra got even tougher when GM placed her in a program for high-potential workers, awarding her a scholarship to the Stanford Graduate School of Business. She earned an MBA and became an executive assistant to then-CEO Jack Smith, which afforded her a window into the company’s highest inner workings, and a platform for promoting diversity and women’s issues in corporate settings. For the past 22 months, she has served as executive vice president of global product development and is considered a critical player in the overhaul of company’s vehicle lineups around the world. In this position, she has led GM’s $15 billion vehicle-development vehicle-development operations, which gave her lots of sway over the look and feel of the full line of GM cars, trucks and SUVs.
We here at E3 Spark Plugs congratulate both Barra and GM on their history-making move.