09th Jan 2014

General Motors is soon to welcome its first female CEO

With Mary Barra officially taking on her new role on January 15th General Motors is set to welcome its ever first female CEO. In fact, a female at the helm, will be a first for the entire automotive industry when Barra takes over from Dan Akerson as CEO, who leaves the role in order to spend time with his wife who is being treated for cancer. Barra is a well-respected executive and her rise to CEO won’t come as a surprise to many. Having carried out her time in a career with GM that spans over 30 years, Barra has learned the ropes from the bottom up – having started as an intern at a GM plant before getting her degree in electrical engineering. A self-professed car enthusiast, Barra has held a number of different roles including Human Resources Director and her current role of Executive VP of Global Product Development.

With Mary Barra officially taking on her new role on January 15th General Motors is set to welcome its first ever female CEO. In fact it will be a first for the entire automotive industry when Barra takes over from Dan Akerson as CEO, who leaves the role in order to spend time with his wife who is being treated for cancer. Barra is a well-respected executive and her rise to CEO won’t come as a surprise to many. Having carried out her due diligence in a career with GM that spans over 30 years, Barra has learned the ropes from the bottom up – having started as an intern at a GM plant before getting her degree in electrical engineering. A self-professed car enthusiast, Barra has held a number of different roles including Human Resources Director and her current role of Executive VP of Global Product Development.

Barra takes over a truly different entity to her predecessor. Akerson became CEO and Chairman in 2010 at a time when GM was still operating under the controversial government bailout which took place in late 2008. During his tenure, Akerson tackled the structural and operational inefficiencies in the company which saw a series of acquisitions, pay-out packages for white collar workers and the launch of a number of new higher quality products that were well received in the industry. Barra takes over the (once again!) privately owned GM, with the government having sold its remaining stocks in December. That said, this will be anything but an easy ride for Barra. The spotlight will be on her from the very beginning with the bailout that cost almost $10 billion dollars still fresh in tax payers’ minds. So how can Barra make an impact in the role? Barra will need to have an excellent first 100 days in order to steer GM in the right direction while staying in favour with shareholders and the general public. A fruitful first 100 days will set Barra, and GM, up for success in the longer term. Two of the key ingredients for a successful first 100 days are communicating a clear vision for the future and taking advantage of the newness in the role to implement change and make and necessary difficult decisions. As a company GM has been quite clear about its new direction over the last number of years heralding a new environmentally and economically sustainable business model. Barra will have to communicate a clear personal vision as CEO to both GM staff and shareholders alike in order to set off on the right foot. Barra has not been afraid to express her vision for the company publicly in the past, having proclaimed that she wants to see GM produce 500,000 vehicles with some level of electrification by 2017. Similarly, Barra is no stranger to making tough decisions. Following her appointment as Executive Vice President of Global Product Development in 2011, she completely removed a layer of management in the business unit giving chief engineers more responsibility for product cost in an attempt to cut costs and reduce waste. If recent press coverage is anything to go by, Barra will be watched closely during her first 100 days. If her track record is anything to go by, we can expect a successful first 100 days for motor industry’s first female chief.

Colm Flood

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