Mary Barra named General Motors (GM) CEO to become America’s first female to head a major auto firm

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General Motors, America’s largest car manufacturer, has named Mary Barra its chief executive, making her the first woman to head a major auto firm.

Barra will replace Dan Akerson who will step down from the post of CEO. Under Akerson, GM moved to eliminate some of its historic bureaucracy and inefficiencies, recovered its investment grade credit rating and pared financial losses in its European business.

He had planned to step down in mid- to late-2014, but brought that forward after learning about two months ago that his wife had an advanced stage of cancer.

The daughter of a GM worker, Barra joined the company at 18 and is currently its global head of product development. Barra will be GM’s fifth CEO in less than five years since Rick Wagoner was forced out by the Obama administration in March 2009 as the company headed towards its bankruptcy filing.

Barra will become the first female in the highest-profile CEO spot in a historically male-dominated industry which is a dramatic development.

Barra also heads purchasing and the supply chain in General Motors. She had run the company’s human-resources operations.

She started with GM as an electrical-engineering co-op student in 1980 when she attended what then was General Motors Institute in Flint, Mich. She also served as a plant manager and executive director of engineering.

According to a leading Advocacy group, in 2013, women accounted for 4 percent of CEOs in Fortune 500 companies and only 3.3 percent of those at durable goods manufacturers.