DETROIT: Mary Barra, the first woman ever chosen to lead a major car company, kicked off her tenure as General Motors CEO yesterday with the launch of a distinctly un-feminine vehicle: A new pickup truck.
Barra, named last month to lead the world’s second largest auto maker, doesn’t officially take charge until Thursday.
But she was already in the driver’s seat yesterday as GM introduced two new truck models for the annual Detroit auto show.
And she made clear that under her the US giant’s focus will be car design and consumer needs, and not what the accountants of the company — which nearly went under in 2008 — think is best.
“In this business everything starts and ends with great products. At today’s GM, our products are the result of putting the customer at the centre of everything we do. “That has fostered a bold new culture at our company, a culture that promotes innovation and encourages risk taking.”
On December 10, GM stunned the automotive world with the announcement that Barra would replace Dan Akerson as CEO when he steps down on January 15. Akerson, 65, was expected to retire sometime this year, but moved up the date to care for his wife, suffering from an advanced stage of cancer, the company said.
Though a surprise to many, few questioned Barra’s ability to take over the Detroit behemoth.
Barra, 52, has worked at GM for 33 years, rising through a series of manufacturing, engineering and senior-staff positions.
She was also credited with helping turn the company around through post-2008 bankruptcy reorganisation, as executive vice president for global product development, purchasing and supply chain. She “was picked for her talent, not her gender,” Akerson said at the time.
“I am honoured to stand up here tonight and humbled to lead the global GM team,” she said.
She took the stage with Mark Reuss, another veteran GM executive considered for the top job and who now will succeed Barra in the position she vacates.
The two stressed their mutual respect. She called Reuss “the best car guy, and truck guy, in the business.” Reuss retorted calling her “my good friend, my new boss, and GM’s CEO”.
“She’s doing great … our chemistry is great,” he added later.
In impromptu comments after the launch, Barra said she hoped her career path can inspire others, according to media reports.
“With my technical background — I’m an electrical engineer — I can motivate young women or young men to pursue a career in science,” she said. Her move into the CEO’s shoes is not without some fire-dousing already. On Friday GM announced the recall of 370,000 trucks for risk of fire. AFP / Peninsula