Mary Barra: Michigan Chronicle’s Newsmaker of the Year

Mary Barra 1Mary Barra made major national and international news when, on Jan. 15, 2014, General Motors named her as the giant automaker’s new CEO. Her appointment was history-making as Barra became GM’s first female CEO and the highest ranking executive female of any automotive company in the world.

Several months after taking office, Barra again made major international news, this time as the chief spokesperson for addressing allegations that GM had serious vehicle safety issues with its ignition-switches. According to some reports, the company knew about such issues, failed to correct them through recalls even though some allegations of death were associated with GM auto crashes that many speculated were caused by faulty ignition-switches.

“I realize there are no words of mine that can ease their grief and pain,” Barra told numerous national and international media outlets. “But as I lead GM through this crisis, I want everyone to know that I am guided by two clear principles — first that we do the right thing for those who were harmed and, second, that we accept responsibility for our mistakes and commit to doing everything within our power to prevent this problem from ever happening again.”

Perhaps no new CEO in the United States has ever had to endure the kind of scrutiny that Barra has faced, including record- setting recalls and multiple grueling appearances before Congress. Amid claims that GM would be transparent and ethical in all inquiries pertaining to its ignition-switches, Barra stood the tests with honesty and a vow to change how GM approached and dealt with safety issues related to any of its vehicles. Yet, Barra also proclaimed that GM will be a fierce competitor.

For Barra, being a fierce competitor has been an important part of her makeup that has propelled her to become the top executive at GM. In a corporate culture where men normally stand at the helm, Barra’s tenacity and rise to the top should not to be dismissed as luck or happenstance.

Prior to taking GM’s top job, Barra was the company’s executive vice president, Global Product Development, Purchasing & Supply Chain, which followed her position as senior vice president, Global Product Development. In both roles, Barra was influentially instrumental in the design, engineering, program management and quality of GM vehicles around the globe.

Other key company positions held by Barra have included GM’s vice president, Global Human Resources; vice president, Global Manufacturing Engineers; plant manager, Detroit Hamtramck Assembly; and executive director of Competitive Operations Engineering, among others.

Barra’s preparation for a career at GM began in 1985, when she graduated from General Motors Institute (Kettering University) where she earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. She subsequently received an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business, after receiving a GM fellowship. Thus, she has continued to move up GM’s corporate ladder at an impressive rate, and continues to champion GM’s integrity and transparency in all its endeavors.

“I want GM to excel,” Barra said recently at the Detroit Economic Club. “I want GM to be the most valued automotive company in the world. Some will say these ambitions are too bold, too aggressive. I don’t think so. If we aren’t here to win, to lead, to excel, why are we here? I want to win, not just get by or just hold on, but win.”

While the heat is still turned up on GM’s vehicle safety practices, policies and massive recalls, Barra has been a calming force and has shown real leadership in very difficult situations. Many of the nation’s print media outlets have praised the job she has done since taking office last January. Time magazine named her to its Time 100, Forbes magazine lists Barra as one of the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women, Fortune magazine placed her on top of its 50 Most Powerful Women in Business, and the Michigan Chronicle is proud to name Mary Barra as its 2014 Newsmaker of the Year.

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