GM names Barra as CEO, succeeding Akerson
Girsky to leave; Reuss, Ammann, Batey get new posts
Dan Akerson, left, and Mary Barra
General Motors named product development chief Mary Barra to succeed Dan Akerson as CEO, making her the first female CEO in the global automotive industry.
Akerson will step down on Jan. 15, 2014.
Akerson said he pulled ahead his succession plan by several months after his wife was diagnosed with an advanced stage of cancer.
Vice Chairman Steve Girsky, 51, head of corporate strategy and business development, will move to an advisory role before leaving the company in April, GM said in a statement. He will remain on the company's board of directors.
Girsky chairs the supervisory board at GM's Germany-based Opel unit and led the U.S. automaker's turnaround plan for Europe that aims to bring the region’s operations back to profitability.
Mark Reuss, 50, executive vice president and president, North America, will replace Barra as executive vice president of global product development, purchasing and supply chain.
The board also named Theodore (Tim) Solso to succeed Akerson as chairman. Solso, 66, is the former chairman and CEO of Cummins Inc., and has been a member of the GM Board since June 2012.
Alan Batey, 50, now head of global Chevrolet and U.S. sales, will replace Reuss as executive vice president of GM North America.
Dan Ammann, 41, executive vice president and chief financial officer, was named company president and will assume responsibility for managing the company’s regional operations around the world. The global Chevrolet and Cadillac brand organizations and GM Financial will also report to Ammann.
GM said it will name a new CFO to replace Ammann at a later date.
“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,” Akerson, 65, said in a message to employees.
Barra, 51, whose career started on a factory floor as an intern more than 30 years ago, has been in charge of product development and quality of all GM cars and trucks for 22 months, fostering collaboration and wringing costs out of the supply chain.
The daughter of a Pontiac die maker, Barra takes the helm after the U.S. government sold its stake in GM, giving her full freedom to take on domestic and Japanese manufacturers whose price competition threatens profit.
Barra began with GM in 1980 as a student at General Motors Institute (since renamed Kettering University) in Flint, Michigan, and landed her first job as a plant engineer at Pontiac Motor Division, where her father worked for 39 years. There were few women and even fewer 18-year-olds. “It was a rougher environment,” she said in an interview with Bloomberg in March. “It makes you harder.”
Her big break came when GM put her in a program for high-potential workers and gave her a scholarship to get an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business. She became an executive assistant for then-CEO Jack Smith, a perch that gave her a window into how the company worked. She recalls visiting senior leaders at GM to talk about diversity and women’s issues while she was pregnant.
Barra has played a role in GM management for a generation. Her career has included time as vice president of global manufacturing engineering, head of GM’s Detroit Hamtramck Assembly plant and executive director of competitive operations engineering. Before becoming GM’s first female product chief, she was the company’s top human-resources executive.
Most recently she led the company’s $15 billion vehicle-development operations, a high-profile role that’s given her sway over the look and feel of the full line of GM cars and trucks. She was promoted to that position in early 2011, less than six months after Akerson became CEO.
Some of the new vehicles to come out under her include the Chevrolet Impala, the first U.S. sedan in at least 20 years chosen by Consumer Reports as as the best on the market, and the Cadillac CTS, picked as Motor Trend’s car of the year.
Some of her other achievements aren’t easy to see.
He asked her to cut costs by aligning purchasing and product development, two powerful units that had long been at odds. In one early example, GM engineers and suppliers found savings by redesigning knee air bags so that they could be used in more vehicles without having to design different dashboards for each model.
“If it’s customer facing, why does it have to be?” Barra said of the conversations she’s had with engineers. “And then if it’s not, why can’t it be common for the globe? Some components and subsystems depend on the size of the vehicle, the performance you’re looking for. But if you start with questioning ‘why can’t I have one solution?’ then you get engineering thinking completely differently."
News of the changes come a day after the U.S. government disclosed the sale of the last of its shares in GM. Bailouts from the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations gave U.S. taxpayers a stake in the automaker while helping GM avoid liquidation. The company reorganized in a 2009 bankruptcy that helped it reduce debt, trim labor costs and sharpen its focus on only the strongest brands.
Bloomberg contributed to this report.