General Motors Co. named its first female chief executive Tuesday, elevating Mary Barra, a former intern who over three decades rose to head the automaker's global product development, to its top position.
Barra, 51, joins a handful of women, including Marissa Mayer at Yahoo Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co.'s Meg Whitman, as CEOs of major American companies. Barra will also join the GM board of directors.
She replaces Dan Akerson, who guided GM through most of the period since it emerged from bankruptcy in 2009. He will step down as chairman and CEO on Jan. 15.
Akerson announced his retirement just a day after the federal government closed the books on the taxpayer bailout of GM, selling the remaining shares in the nation's largest automaker and taking an expected $10.5-billion loss.
"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," Akerson said.
Akerson, 65, said he decided to advance GM's succession plan by several months after his wife was recently diagnosed with an advanced stage of cancer.
Barra joined GM 33 years ago and has held a series of manufacturing, engineering and senior staff positions.
"With an amazing portfolio of cars and trucks and the strongest financial performance in our recent history, this is an exciting time at today's GM," Barra said. "I'm honored to lead the best team in the business and to keep our momentum at full speed."
[Updated 7:17 a.m. PDT Dec. 10: Barra should prove a competent leader, said Jared Rowe, president of auto information company Kelley Blue Book.
"We've seen some of the best products released under Mary Barra, who has helped to oversee the development of their vehicles on a global scale," Rowe said.
"Now that the company has also been freed from government ownership, Mary has the opportunity to see the company continue to develop vehicles that consumers want to drive while improving its continued profitability," Rowe said.]
Dan Ammann, 41, GM's chief financial officer, was named company president and will assume responsibility for the company's regional operations around the world. The global Chevrolet and Cadillac brand organizations and GM Financial will also report to Ammann.
Mark Reuss, 50, executive vice president and president for North America, will replace Barra as executive vice president for global product development, purchasing and supply chain.
Both Ammann and Reuss were considered possible successors to Akerson.
Akerson joined GM as a board member during its financial crisis in 2009. He was named chairman and CEO in 2010 and has headed the company during a period of resurgent profitability. Since emerging from bankruptcy GM has logged 15 consecutive quarters of profitability.
"My goals as CEO were to put the customer at the center of every decision we make, to position GM for long-term success and to make GM a company that America can be proud of again," Akerson said. "We are well down that path, and I'm certain that our new team will keep us moving in that direction."