Leadership
GM Hires First Female CEO in Automotive Industry

General Motors last week announced that Mary Barra will replace Dan Akerson as CEO on January 15, 2014 — making her the first woman to lead a major automaker. Barra currently serves an executive vice president in the company’s global product development unit.

With more than 30 years' experience at GM, Barra rose through a series of manufacturing, engineering and senior staff positions, the company says. Notably, Barra helped to facilitate GM’s turnaround after its 2009 bankruptcy and reorganization.

“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 GM,” said Barra in a GM news release. “I’m honored to lead the best team in the business and to keep our momentum at full speed.”

GM says the change is a result of Akerson pulling “ahead his succession plan by several months after his wife was recently diagnosed with an advanced stage of cancer."

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Though Akerson’s official title is chairman and CEO, Barra’s will differ because the company is splitting the roles of chairman and CEO. GM says board member Tim Solso, a former CEO of Cummins, will become the new chairman of the corporation's board.

The company says this change comes as it is "closing the chapter on government ownership."

On Monday, the U.S. Treasury Department announced it had sold its last remaining shares in the company. In 2009, the government purchases nearly 61 percent of GM's value as part of a federal bailout of several large U.S. carmakers. While the move may have saved thousands of jobs, it also cost U.S. taxpayers $10.7 billion.

The topic of the value of getting more women in the top echelons of corporate leadership has garnered a great deal of coverage as of late: in September, the Thirty Percent Coalition — whose goal is to pursue S&P500 and Russell100 companies with no female directors in an attempt to reach 30 percent corporate board seats held by women by the end of 2015 — reported that eight companies who previously had no female directors have now appointed women; and according to the Globe and Mail, Germany recently instituted a 30 percent female appointment requirement to open board seats by 2016.

In other GM news, the automaker also announced last week that its headquarters in Detroit now recycles 49 percent of its total waste and converts the rest, including food scraps and used containers, to renewable energy that powers other nearby businesses. This amounts to 5 million pounds of trash annually — the equivalent of 200,000 full garbage bags.

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