G.M. Names First Female Chief Executive
DETROIT — General Motors announced Tuesday that its chief executive, Daniel F. Akerson, would retire next month and be succeeded by Mary T. Barra, who would become the first woman to lead a major auto company.
The elevation of Ms. Barra, 51, to the chief executive post is the latest dramatic change at the top of General Motors since its bailout by the federal government in 2009.
G.M., the nation’s largest automaker, said that Mr. Akerson, 65, would step down as chief executive and chairman on Jan. 15. His planned retirement was hastened, the company said, by his wife’s recent cancer diagnosis.
Ms. Barra has worked for G.M. for 33 years and was most recently the executive vice president of global product development. She is considered a critical player in the overhaul of company’s vehicle lineups around the world.
The G.M. board approved Ms. Barra’s selection and named her a director of the company.
“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 G.M.,” Ms. Barra said in the company statement. “I’m honored to lead the best team in the business and to keep our momentum at full speed.”
Ms. Barra, who is married and the mother of two children, joined General Motors in 1980 as a co-op student in the company’s Pontiac division. An electrical engineer by training, she worked in a variety of engineering posts and managed an assembly plant, among other jobs, before being named head of the company’s human resources department in 2009.
After being promoted by Mr. Akerson to lead G.M.’s global product development in 2011, Ms. Barra set out to streamline the company’s historically bureaucratic vehicle development process. She has been an advocate of reducing the number of global vehicle platforms that G.M. uses around the world, an approach that saves money and reduces complexity among its product lines.
“G.M. is in more than capable hands, as we’ve seen some of the best products released under Mary Barra, who has helped oversee the development of their vehicles on a global scale,” said Jared Rowe, president of the automobile research firm Kelley Blue Book.
The announcement of Mr. Akerson’s retirement came a day after the Treasury Department said it had sold the last of the G.M. stock that taxpayers received in exchange for the government’s $49.5 billion bailout of the company.
Mr. Akerson was among the new directors that the government installed after the bailout.He became chief executive in 2010 and led the automaker through its initial public stock offering and subsequent turnaround.
“I will leave with great satisfaction in what we have accomplished, great optimism over what is ahead and great pride that we are restoring General Motors as America’s standard-bearer in the global auto industry,” Mr. Akerson said.
G.M. said that Mr. Akerson’s successor as chairman of the board would be Theodore M. Solso, the former chairman and chief executive of Cummins, the engine manufacturer.
Ms. Barra was not immediately made available by G.M. for comment.
The choice of Ms. Barra as the next chief executive was not totally unexpected in Detroit, where she had been considered among a handful of internal candidates for the job.
Still, the selection of a woman to lead the nation’s biggest auto company is sure to reverberate throughout the corporate world as a milestone for both G.M. and the industry.
“I never thought I’d see the day that a woman would head a car company – much less the biggest car company in America,” said Michelle Krebs, an analyst with the auto research site Edmunds.com.
“But Mary Barra’s elevation to C.E.O. of General Motors is not just about filling a female quota,” said Ms. Krebs. “Mary is an extremely competent automotive executive who has proven herself repeatedly.”
The company’s board met over the weekend to vote on Mr. Akerson’s replacement. He told reporters there was brief consideration of going outside for a new chief executive, but the directors decided to focus on internal candidates and unanimously chose Ms. Barra.
“Mary was picked for her talent, not her gender,” Mr. Akerson said.
He described Ms. Barra as highly experienced both in management and product skills, but also as having “an ability with people.” He said she “brought order to chaos” in the company’s vast product development organization, and drove change in how G.M. conceived new vehicles and brought them to market efficiently and at lower cost.
“This is an executive who has a vision of where she wants to take the organization,” Mr. Akerson said.