4:29pm

Tue December 10, 2013
Business

GM's New CEO Will Be First Woman To Drive A Major Car Company

Originally published on Wed December 11, 2013 12:30 pm

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish.

It's been a big week for General Motors and it's only Tuesday. Yesterday, the Treasury Department sold off its remaining shares in the auto giant. That ends one of the most tumultuous periods in company history. Now, GM turns a page with a new CEO, Mary Barra.

As NPR's Sonari Glinton reports, she will become the first woman CEO of a major automaker.

SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: In most ways, Mary Barra is sort a typical car CEO. Actually she's sort of a throwback to when Detroit CEOs worked their way from the bottom up. Here she is speaking at her alma mater, Kettering University, which is known for producing auto executives.

MARY BARRA: When I was 18 years old, my friends were all working at fast food restaurants. And as Kettering student, I was applying engineering skills in a GM assembly plant. That experience was absolutely invaluable for me. It gave me an early understanding of what it meant to be engineer in the auto business.

GLINTON: Barra has been at General Motors for her entire career, 33 years. As an engineer she started out in assembly plants and worked her way to be in charge of all GM products. She replaces Dan Akerson who guided GM through its initial public offering and it's repositioning over the last few years.

KRISTEN DZICZEK: Mary Barra is the best person for this job.

GLINTON: Kristen Dziczek with the Center for Automotive Research. She says it's been a long while since someone who's led a car company has had so much experience actually leading one.

DZICZEK: She's from Michigan. She really, you know, worked her way through General Motors and knows a lot about product, a lot about manufacturing, and a lot about what she needs to know to run this company. And she's also a woman and there are very few of us in this industry.

GLINTON: For years, Barra has been one of the most visible female executives in Detroit. She has a reputation for being somewhat soft spoken and a logical problem solver, not necessarily traits that auto executives are known for.

Michelle Krebs is an analyst with Edmunds.com. Krebs says Barra proved her mettle having to combat sexism working as a young woman in an auto plant. That's been an advantage.

MICHELLE KREBS: That's a very harsh environment. That's where they build cars and trucks. It's the nuts and bolts of the business. And it's challenging too, because you're dealing with the union side of the business and the management side of the business. And you really have to be a diplomat. And I think that's helped her in terms of developing a lot of the personal skills she has.

GLINTON: Krebs says the appointment of Mary Barra as GM's CEO sends not only a message. She says by putting a car person in charge of General Motors it's a sign that the company knows what it is.

KREBS: This message it sends to the world is that this is a company that's business is to design, engineer and build cars, trucks, sport utilities, whatever.

GLINTON: By almost every measure, GM is a healthier company than it's been for more than a quarter century. It's more profitable, sales are increasing, and its quality scores are improving. Kristin Dziczek, with the Center for Automotive Research, says if there's been a good time to be CEO, this is it.

DZICZEK: I mean this is a company that has just been through endless restructuring. This is, you know, sort of clean slate now. What is the new General Motors going to look like? And she gets to decide.

GLINTON: Sonari Glinton, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.