GM blazes a new trail with a product expert as CEO

Dave Guilford is news editor for Automotive News.Dave Guilford is news editor for Automotive News.
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Mary Barra’s appointment as CEO of General Motors is getting national attention because she will be the first female leader of a major U.S. car company.

Rightfully so. It’s a boost for women in the industry and a significant -- if overdue -- milestone. It may even help GM shed a bit of its “Detroit dinosaur” image.

But another aspect of the move is equally significant. GM has flipped its old model of “finance guy as CEO, engineer as president.”

Other than a stint in human resources, Barra has spent her 33-year career at GM on the side of the business that develops and builds cars: engineering, purchasing, manufacturing and product development.

Barra has been head of product development since January 2011. Her bachelor’s degree is in electrical engineering. She has been a plant manager.

The past two CEOs, Dan Akerson and Ed Whitacre, came from outside the industry during GM’s bankruptcy and its aftermath. But before that, GM was led by a long chain of finance guys.

Clearly, with the appointment of CFO Dan Ammann as company president, Barra will have a strong financial executive at her side.

But it’s encouraging to see GM turning to a CEO with deep experience in the core challenge of creating excellent cars and trucks.

You can reach Dave Guilford at dguilford@crain.com. -- Follow Dave on

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