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GM appoints Mary Barra as new CEO

Making history: Mary Barra, a 33-year GM veteran and engineer, is the first woman to lead a global car-maker.

Executive shuffle sees Mary Barra replace retiring Dan Akerson at the top of GM


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11 Dec 2013

GENERAL Motors has named global product development chief Mary Barra as its new chief executive officer, following the early retirement of Dan Akerson.

The announcement makes Ms Barra the first woman to lead a global car-maker.

Ms Barra will not take on the additional position of chairman, as did Akerson.

Instead, the position goes to former Cummins chairman and CEO Theodore (Tim) Solso, who has served on the GM Board since June 2012.

Completing the re-organisation at the very top of the GM tree, current executive vice president and chief financial officer Dan Ammann is the new company president, and will assume responsibility for managing regional operations around the world.

The executive shuffle comes the same week as the US government sold the last of its shares in GM, picked up as part of a bailout package during the financial crisis of 2008/09. GM credits Ms Barra as “a leader in the company’s ongoing turnaround”.

It also comes at a time of flux for some of the company’s regional divisions, with the decision taken last week to close Chevrolet Europe to focus on the loss-making Opel brand. The manufacturing future of Australian outpost Holden is also under a cloud.

In what could be construed as a sign that Holden is seen as a strong GM executive training ground, two former heads of the Lion Brand - Mark Reuss and his successor Alan Batey - have both been promoted up the company food chain.

Ms Barra, who also joins the GM board, has worked for the Detroit-based company for 33 years through a series of manufacturing, engineering and management positions.

A qualified electric engineer, she was appointed to the product development role in January 2011, before that having served as the vice-president of global human resources. Ms Barra has also served as plant manager of GM’s Hamtrack assembly line.

“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,” Ms Barra said in a media release. “I’m honored to lead the best team in the business and to keep our momentum at full speed.”

Ms Barra’s replacement in product development will be former Holden chairman and managing director Mark Reuss, who returned Stateside from his stint at Holden in August 2009.

“The driver’s seat of designing and engineering the strongest product line up in GM’s history is the best seat to have,” Mr Reuss said. “We’re going to keep the pedal down on GM’s product resurgence and keep winning new customers.”

In an example of either standard GM progression or synchronicity, Mr Reuss’ replacement as executive vice-president of GM North America will be Alan Batey, the man who also succeeded Mr Reuss as chairman and MD of Holden in 2009.

Mr Batey joined GM’s Vauxhall operation in 1979 and held several sales, service and marketing positions around the world outside of Holden. In his current position, he developed the Chevrolet brand’s Find New Roads advertising campaign and oversaw a sweeping upgrade of retail sales and service operations at hundreds of US dealerships.

“North America is the foundation of the GM turnaround story and I’m honored to help continue what Mark started,” said Mr Batey. “We remain committed to delivering the world’s best retail experience to match the world’s best cars and trucks.”

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

Outgoing chairman and CEO Mr Akerson, 65, pulled ahead the succession plan by several months after his wife was recently diagnosed with an advanced stage of cancer.

Under Akerson’s leadership, GM transformed from being majority owned by US Treasury to being publicly traded and investment grade rated.

“My goals as CEO were to put the customer at the center of every decision we make, to position GM for long term success and to make GM a company that America can be proud of again,” Mr Akerson said. “We are well down that path, and I’m certain that our new team will keep us moving in that direction.”

Akerson was named GM chairman and CEO on September 1, 2010. He joined GM in 2009 as a member of its Board of Directors. Since the company’s November 2010 Initial Public Offering, GM has recorded 15 consecutive quarters of profitability, and has re-invested nearly $9 billion and created or retained more than 25,000 jobs at its US plants.

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