GM’s Mary Barra has a plan to win the EV race

The daughter of a GM die-maker, Ms Barra, 60, grew up in Royal Oak, Michigan, and started working at a GM plant as an intern at 18 while studying electrical engineering at technical college of business, now called Kettering University. Thanks to a GM scholarship, she earned a master’s degree in business administration at Stanford. Since entering the executive ranks, she has held leadership positions in global manufacturing, human resources, product development and supply chain management.

In January 2014, she succeeded Daniel F. Akerson as CEO and became the first woman to lead a major automotive company. Ms Barra guided GM through a scandal stemming from a faulty ignition switch linked to crashes that claimed more than 100 lives. She then made a series of decisions that showed that the General Motors that had just come out of bankruptcy was not the conservative, weighty giant that consumers and investors had known for a century.

In a move that would once have been unthinkable, it decided to withdraw from the European market, a slow-growing, low-margin region where GM had been posting losses for two decades. GM has sold its European operations to French Peugeot SA, which is now part of Stellantis. The sale included the Opel division, which had been owned by GM since 1929.

Removing loss-making businesses that had been tolerated for years “helped change the mindset”, she said. “The whole company kind of said, ‘Well, it’s a new day. « »

GM, which had long prided itself on developing its own technology, also acquired an automated vehicle startup, Cruise Automation. In another unprecedented move, GM brought in outside investors, including Honda and T. Rowe Price, to share the costs and risks of spending billions of dollars on self-driving vehicles.

Along the way, Ms Barra formed a close partnership with Mr Reuss, a contemporary who had been a candidate for the top job in 2014. He too spent his career at GM and had followed his own father, Lloyd Reuss, a former president of the company.

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