CEO Mary Barra - Distinctive take over to run GM
In Detroit: Only just known before 2 years ago, Mary Barra who turns 52 on Christmas Eve, the new CEO of General Motors Co was little know to the outside world. However her rapid rise during her 33 year stint with GM which included a promotion to Senior VP by 2011 within the company had been signaled more than a decade ago.
Barra, was marked for future success in the company's "Progression and Succession" reviews, annual surveys intended to spot young high-potential employees, former GM executives said.
"She was always at the top of that list" in the late 1990s, said Don Hackworth, who retired as head of GM's North American Car Group in 2001.
Barra's early recognition as a "high-pot" executive led to a job in the corporate suite, as Vice Chairman Harry Pearce's assistant, when she was still in her 30s. "It was a great opportunity to get an overview of how the corporation works," said Michael Losh, GM's former chief financial officer.
Barra's extensive tenure at GM - A Michigan native, she started as an 18-year-old engineering intern at Pontiac, where her father was a die-maker for nearly four decades - might have raised doubts that she was too much a part of the old regime, which was forced to seek bankruptcy protection and a U.S. government bailout in 2009. But "she wasn't part of the established order that destroyed the company," said a Wall Street investment banker who has worked with GM for decades. "She's the best of the 'old GM' and she's a pretty modern thinker in terms of how to compete in today's world."
Former GM executive Lynn Myers, one of the first women in Detroit to run a car division before her 2004 retirement, said: "This is not business as usual at GM. It's not like the past. Mary is not afraid to shake the bushes."
Executives cite Barra's "radical" reorganization over the past two years of GM's extensive and often dysfunctional global product development organization.
"She does what she thinks is necessary to take action if something needs fixing," said Gary Cowger, GM's former group vice president who retired in 2010.
Barra, who is the mother of a teenage son and daughter, is described by those who know her as friendly, composed and comprehensive.
"She can be under huge pressure and she just never loses her calmness," said a person close to Barra. "She thinks things through. When she speaks, I listen."
People close to Barra often describe how she skillfully handled the complicated and potentially traumatic overhaul of GM's engineering and development groups.
"She talks a lot about how important winning the hearts and minds of employees is. I see her as a very motivational leader."
Barra's gender, is mentioned repeatedly, but usually dismissed as the deciding factor in her promotion in a century-old industry that has been dominated by men.
"These 'firsts' of women CEOs are no longer newsworthy," said Bonnie Baha, portfolio manager at DoubleLine Capital. "The focus should be on her qualifications, which appear to be uniquely suited to running GM."