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GM taps 1st female chief executive officer as it emerges from US control

NEW YORK--General Motors Tuesday named company veteran Mary Barra as its new chief executive, making her the first woman ever to lead a major automaker.

With the company just exiting its 2008 government rescue and sales hitting their best levels in six years, Barra was named to succeed Dan Akerson as CEO on Jan. 15.

Barra, 51, currently works as executive vice president for global product development, purchasing and supply chain. GM said she had been “a leader in the company's ongoing turnaround.”

She has worked at GM for 33 years, rising through a series of manufacturing, engineering and senior staff positions.

She “was picked for her talent, not her gender,” Akerson said.

“She grew up in the company, worked on the factory floor, managed plants and then managed the largest and most complex part of our business — that's global product development and global supply chain management.”

Akerson said chatter about GM being a boy's club was “quite dated” and noted that several leading GM divisions are led by women, as are about 25 percent of the company's plants.

Barra, along with a small group of other GM executives, had been fingered in recent months as possible future CEOs. While her appointment was not a surprise, analysts said the timing came earlier than anticipated.

Akerson had planned to retire in mid-to-late 2014, but accelerated the time frame because his wife is at an advanced stage of cancer.

“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,” said Akerson in a message to employees.

Michelle Krebs, a senior analyst at Edmunds called Tuesday “an historic day for GM and the auto industry.”

The announcement came a day after the U.S. Treasury said it sold its last shares in the company, after the government took financial control with a US$50 billion injection in 2008 to prevent it from going under in the economic crisis.

GM had already made a successful return to the stock market in November 2010, and auto sales this year have been their best since 2007, placing the company solidly ahead of the No. 2 U.S. automaker, Ford, which did not need a bailout in 2008.

Barra joins a growing list of prominent female chief executives across a wide swath of U.S. sectors.

Others include IBM's Virginia Rometty, Meg Whitman at Hewlett-Packard, Patricia Woertz at Archer Daniels Midland, Ellen Kullman at DuPont and Yahoo's Marissa Mayer.

But Barra's appointment also stood out from other recent GM leaders for another reason, according to Barclays: her background as an engineer.

“We see the announcement as a positive, as it marks the first time in a very long time that GM is being run by an engineer,” Barclays said.

“We believe the focus on effective product development and engineering processes will become more prevalent within GM with Barra's promotion, and will be part of the company's evolution and ongoing improvement.”

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General Motors Senior Vice President Mary Barra is seen during the presentation of the North American Car & Truck of the Year at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan, Jan. 14.

(AP)

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