The U.S. Auto Industry Is Getting Its Very First Female CEO

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Dec. 10 2013 10:27 AM

The U.S. Auto Industry Is Getting Its Very First Female CEO

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GM on Tuesday announced that Mary Barra will take over as CEO of the company next month

Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images

Some big news out of the American auto industry this morning, via the Associated Press:

Josh Voorhees Josh Voorhees

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

General Motors product development chief Mary Barra has been named the company’s new CEO, the first female head of a U.S. car company.
Barra, 51, will replace Dan Akerson on Jan. 15. Akerson, chairman and CEO, moved up his retirement plans by several months because his wife, Karin, is battling advanced cancer, the company said in a statement Tuesday. With the decision, the GM board separated the board chairman and CEO positions. Barra will get a seat on the board, but Director Theodore (Tim) Solso will succeed Akerson as chairman. Solso formerly was chairman and CEO of engine maker Cummins Inc., and has been on GM’s board since June of 2012.
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Barra, who has spent more than three decades with General Motors since joining the company as an electrical engineering co-op student in 1980, will be the auto giant's fifth CEO in less than five years, and the first since 2009 that wasn't appointed by the Treasury Department.

Her name had long been rumored as a possible CEO candidate, and she was said to be on a short-list that included a handful of other GM executives, including North American VP Mark Reuss, vice chairman Steve Girsky and CFO Daniel Ammann, according to the Detroit Free Press. (At least some industry watchers had pegged Reuss as the front-runner for the position; he will instead take over Barra’s job as executive vice president of global product development, purchasing and supply chain.)

Still, the writing may have already been on the wall for the past several months. Barra's current job is considered by some, as the AP points out, the most important job in the company. She's in charge of design, engineering and quality of the company's entire global fleet, and has overseen most of GM's recent new vehicle rollouts. And, as the Detroit News points out, Akerson may have tipped his hand back in September when he told a women's business group that he thought it was "inevitable" that one day a woman would lead one of Detroit's Big Three automakers.

That day, it turns out, will be January 15th.

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