General Motors has named product development chief Mary Barra to succeed Dan Akerson as CEO, making her the first female CEO in the global automotive industry, the automaker said.
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.
Akerson, 65, said he pulled ahead his succession plan by several months after his wife was diagnosed with an advanced stage of cancer. His retirement — and several other top executive moves — will be effective Jan. 15, GM said.
Mark Reuss, 50, executive vice president and president, North America, will replace Barra, 51, as executive vice president of global product development, purchasing and supply chain. The board also named director 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.
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. He will remain on the company’s board of directors.
GM said it will name a new CFO to replace Ammann at a later date.
Barra, 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 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, Mich., 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.
“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 said in a message to employees.