Mary Barra was named General Motors Corp.’s head of global product development, succeeding Tom Stephens, who was recently named GM’s global chief technology officer. The 49-year-old Barra is the first woman to hold the top product development job at GM. Since 2009, she has served as vice president of global human resources for GM – an important post as GM restructured and emerged from bankruptcy protection.
An engineer, Barra was also head of global manufacturing engineering for GM, manager of the automaker's Detroit Hamtramck assembly plant, and executive director of competitive operations engineering.
Barra will assume GM's product development efforts at a critical time. While sales of GM's four U.S. brands are sharply rebounding, GM’s lineup, particularly in the U.S. market, faces new challenges and product gaps over the next few years. GM CEO Dan Akerson said that Barra will bring a fresh perspective to the critically important job of “developing vehicles that delight global customers.”
He added that Barra’s broad experience in engineering, manufacturing and staff functions; combined with the ability to collaborate and build strong relationships will enhance the company's ability to deliver the products that consumers are demanding. GM seeks to gain U.S. market share and enter new market segments in growing markets outside the U.S. like India, Brazil, China and Russia.
GM recognized Barra’s efforts in bringing diverse groups together for a shared goal in 2009, when she was named vice president for Global Human Resources. This role included introducing changes in GM culture during its restructuring. Prior to this post, Barra was vice president for Global Manufacturing Engineering and held a number of engineering and staff positions.
She had been the plant manager for Detroit Hamtramck Assembly Plant, executive director of Competitive Operations Engineering, and general director of Internal Communications for GM North America. Barra’s career in GM started in 1980 as a General Motors Institute (Kettering University) co-op student at the Pontiac Motor Division.
She finished university with a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering. In 1988, Barra was granted a GM fellowship to the Stanford Graduate School of Business. In 1990, Barra completed her Masters in Business Administration course. She is currently a member of the Kettering University Board of Trustees and of the Inforum Center for Leadership Board of Directors.
She is also Key Executive for Stanford University. In 2005 and 2010, Automotive News named Barra as one of the “100 Leading Women in the North American Auto Industry.” In 2010, Barra was granted Kettering Alumni Association's Management Achievement Award for her contributions in the field of management. In her new role that will take effect on Feb. 1, Barra will still report to Akerson and serve on the Executive Committee.