Teddy Roosevelt, engineering rises again and 'girl power' -- what people are saying about GM moves

"Now that [GM] has also been freed from government ownership, Mary Barra (pictured) has the opportunity to see the company continue to develop vehicles that consumers want to drive while improving its continued profitability," says Jared Rowe, president of Kelley Blue Book.
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A roundup of what analysts, journalists and others are saying about the appointment of Mary Barra as CEO of General Motors and the other top management moves made by the company on Tuesday:

‘‘There’s nobody with more years of honest ‘car-guy’ credentials than she has. She started off as a little-girl car guy. She became a big-girl car guy and now she’s a woman car guy. She’s the one to do the breakthrough."

-- Erik Gordon, a professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, on Barra, the daughter of a die maker in the auto industry, to the Associated Press.

"Simply the act of naming a woman, and one with great smarts, skill, and toughness, sends a powerful message about what the GM board values. It values competence over making nice."

-- Chicago-based consultant Gregory Carrott, in Fortune

"After a long run of CEOs with financial backgrounds and orientations, the company is once again choosing an engineer for its top role. The company hasn't done that since Bob Stempel was boss and it could be interpreted as a signal that GM believes it's as much a car-making company as a money-making company. It's an important signal that as GM sheds the last of its financially-focused baggage, it's choosing an engineer to start a new era and frame the company's revised vision."

-- Bill Visnic, Edmunds.com senior analyst

"These management changes will enable GM to institutionalize culture and management-approach changes implemented over the past several years. Promoting Mary Barra to CEO delivers an executive with a full view of the company’s strengths and weaknesses, based in product quality and development. Mark Reuss is promoted to Barra’s prior role of vice president, global product development, purchasing and supply chain. In product development terms, keeping purchasing and product development under a single manager can help ensure purchasing decisions are biased as best for the product. At the same time, Dan Amman has proven to be a financial officer that also understands the need for great product and support for customer experience development. Moving him to a more operational role, as the company president responsible for managing company regional operations around the world can ensure all regions learn the lessons of the fortress balance sheet that he executed as CFO for the overall organization -- with somewhat less concern that the company will easily slip back to making cost-reduction decisions that weaken products. Also, the moves reward the executives who have worked the hardest and been most visible during the bankruptcy and steps to recovery -- each of whom seems committed to continuing to improve GM and recognize that the job is not complete, and may never be, in the sense that change is constant in industry."

-- IHS Automotive

"At long last, Detroit is getting some girl power."

-- Maggie McGrath, Forbes.com

"Girls rule, boys drool. That may become the new catchphrase in the auto industry. Women are accounting for a rising share of car purchase ... Barra thrived in the chaos of crisis-era GM. After being saved by billions in federal money, GM faced a government and public that wanted new leadership at a company rocked by changing consumer tastes, rising commodity prices and the global financial crisis. During her time as head of HR and as head of global product development, Barra made changes -- large and small -- that changed GM’s culture. She hacked through layers of excessive management in product development. One of the more hotly contested was her decision to allow employees to wear jeans to work. Not surprisingly at an old-school company, that drew a lot of complaints, to which Barra reportedly responded, 'So you’re telling me I can trust you to give you a company car and to have you responsible for tens of millions of dollars, but I can’t trust you to dress appropriately?' ... Yet the problems facing Barra are still large: [GM's] international operations are lagging, auto demand in the vital European market is chronically weak, the company must figure out how to lower costs to compete in India and China, and it faces aggressive competition in its home market."

-- , The Daily Beast

"GM is in more than capable hands as we've seen some of the best products released under Mary Barra. 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."

-- Jared Rowe, president of Kelley Blue Book

"Mary has been very privileged to have incredible mentors that gave her opportunities and assignments that would never have happened if they hadn't been around to make it happen. When a good women has those opportunities, she can shine just as bright (maybe more!) than a man. Unfortunately too often there is too much momentum with the good old boy network for competence and good work from women alone to make the difference, and they don't always get the opportunities to have the experience to get to the top."

-- Lori Queen, retired GM vehicle line executive in charge of small and mid-sized trucks

"Many critics of the 'old GM' have long noted that old GM was run by finance types, with engineering relegated to a second-tier status.  The management changes GM announced this morning flip that paradigm. 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, Mary Barry. Our meeting with Barra in May of this year reinforced that she is working to elevate the visibility and influence of engineering within GM, while also making progress on the organizational design for platform globalization, modularity, and driving brand accountability. 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. Indeed, we see Barra as more of a 'process architect' than a 'car guy (or gal)' -- not a bad thing considering the success of Alan Mullaly in that role at Ford, or the original success of Alfred Sloan at GM in the 1920’s-50’s. At the same time, we recognize that the recent gains in GM stock are likely driven by hopes of a cash catalyst, and hedge funds are in general fans of CFO Dan Ammann, who will now take over as president of the company, and will manage the company’s regions and global brands. Keeping Ammann involved will likely reassure these investors."

-- Brian A. Johnson, Barclays analyst

"Three cheers for GM. It’s not just putting a woman in this influential role for gender sake. But hearing Mary Barra speak ... this is not just putting a woman there for a woman’s sake, but you have to have the skills, the credentials and do the hard work -- she has that pedigree. She’s done it. That’s the real turning point. The door has now been opened."

-- Sherry Muir Irwin, president of the Automotive Women’s Alliance Foundation, a non-profit that works for the advancement of women in the auto industry.

"Besides having a knack for climbing the corporate ladder -- she started at GM as a student intern -- Barra is the living embodiment of Teddy Roosevelt's admonition to speak softly but carry a big stick. With a keen eye for spotting incidents of corporate idiocy, she manages to correct or reverse them with a steely resolve delivered with a soft message. She is that rare executive who doesn't ignore common sense when faced with a complicated problem. Her biggest challenge is to win over those surviving GM traditionalists, the 'car guys' who adored Barra's predecessor Bob Lutz and whose overwhelming choice for CEO was Mark Reuss, president of North American operations. Reuss also had a big hand in the launch of GM's successful new vehicles, was recognized as a certified 'hot-shoe' driver, and, as the son of a former GM president, is a member of GM royalty. But he may be too shy of experience in Europe and Asia, and too connected to GM's old-boy network to suit Akerson, who saw the chance to name Barra his successor as an historic opportunity. For Barra, the distractions as the first woman CEO in Detroit -- and the global auto industry in general, by most accounts, will be enormous. She will know she has become successful when people stop referring to her as a 'car girl' and just call her 'boss.'"

-- Alex Taylor III of Fortune.com

"Barra’s challenge going forward is to deliver on outgoing CEO Dan Akerson’s promise... that the company won’t squander the second chance afforded by the just-concluded federal bailout. The first vehicles designed and engineered fully on her watch are just starting to appear. Mr. Akerson and GM’s board clearly like what they see. The real test will be whether consumers around the world share their enthusiasm."

-- Joe White, The Wall Street Journal

"Industry by industry, women have broken into C-suites previously occupied only by men. Tech may be male-dominated, but at least it's got Virginia Rometty and Marissa Mayer. Aerospace equally so, but at least Lockheed Martin installed Marillyn Hewson in the top spot earlier this year. The auto industry had been a holdout, however, overseas as well as in the United States. Of course, Barra has lots to recommend her besides her gender. An electrical engineer by training, she's served in most departments at GM, most recently as chief product officer, where she's taken on the company's high cost structure for making stuff that isn't necessarily better than its competition. Before that, as head of human resources, she attacked the reams of red tape around what people could and couldn't do while at work (including wearing jeans). When asked how she thinks about her gender in the automotive context, or even about the mark she's personally made on GM's products, Barra tends to demur, talking about the importance of her team and all the other women at the company. But she doesn't need to talk about being a woman in order for it to have an impact, both for the image it projects to the world and the tone it sets inside the company."

-- Lydia DePillis of The Washington Post

Jamie LaReau and David Phillips contributed to this report.

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