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GM top lady faces media baptism

2014-01-14 12:08

NEW GENERAL MOTORS CEO: Mary Barra addressing the news media at the Detroit auto show in Michigan. Image: AFP

DETROIT. Michigan, - General Motors' incoming CEO is hoping that, as the first woman to lead a global automaker, she will inspire young people to pursue a career in science.

Mary Barra's first appearance in front of reporters since getting the job in December 2013 was at the 2014 Detroit auto show and she eclipsed the glitzy roll-out of the GMC Canyon small pick-up Sunday at an old industrial building north of central Detroit.

Barra, who only officially takes over January 15 2014, led the truck unveiling then was surrounded by several hundred journalists.

'INSPIRATION TO WOMEN'

Responding to a question about being an inspiration to women, Barra said: "With my technical background — I'm an electrical engineer — I can motivate young women or young men to pursue a career in science." She hopes her engineering credentials have made her a role model for young people.

Barra, 52, appointed by the board on December 10 2013 to replace the outgoing Dan Akerson, avoided a question about whether she's under more pressure at work because she's a woman.  "I come to work every day. I work my hardest. We're focused on the goal. We're aligned. That's the way I look at it."

Barra gave 11 carefully scripted answers to reporters' questions before leaving the building, repeating several times that the company was focused on its customers. She wasn't directly asked about her plans to lead the nation's largest automaker but described her management style as "collaborative".

Barra joined GM at aged 18 as a co-op student and worked for several months at a time at GM's Pontiac division while studying for an engineering degree at General Motors Institute, a Michigan college then owned by the company.

She graduated from GMI, now Kettering University, in 1985, and GM eventually sent her to Stanford University to earn an MBA. When she returned she rotated through a number of jobs, among them executive assistant to then CEO Jack Smith, a role often given to rising stars. She headed the mid-size car plant and managed GM's Detroit-Hamtramck plant.

Just after GM's 2009 bankruptcy then CEO Ed Whitacre put her in charge of personnel, a stop that isn't normally along the CEO track. In Barra's case it was key. GM had to keep talented people from jumping ship so it had bench strength to recover. Few people left.

In 2011 Akerson took Barra to run GM's huge worldwide product development operation which, he said at the time, was in chaos. During her tenure GM rolled out many new products, among them the acclaimed Chevrolet Impala and new full-size and small bakkies. It also made progress building multiple vehicles off the same underpinnings to save money.


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