The Corporate Women
Where Women are reshaping the corporate world

Mary Barra: Transforming the Auto Industry at the Helm of GM


Mary Teresa Barra, a trailblazing American businesswoman, has been steering the course of General Motors since January 2014, holding the positions of Chair and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) at this global automotive powerhouse. As the first female CEO of a ‘Big Three’ automaker, Mary Barra’s journey has made an enduring impact on General Motors and the automotive industry as a whole.

Early Roots and Life

Born on December 24, 1961, in Royal Oak, Michigan, Mary Barra is of Finnish descent, with her roots deeply embedded in a family that immigrated to the United States. Her educational journey became the cornerstone for her future endeavours, graduating from the General Motors Institute, now Kettering University, in 1985 with a degree in Electrical Engineering. Subsequently, she earned an MBA from Stanford Graduate School of Business in 1990.

A Pioneering Career at General Motors

Mary Barra’s association with General Motors commenced early in 1980 when, at the age of 18, she joined as a co-op student, inspecting hoods and checking fender panels to support her college tuition. Over the years, her dedication led her through various engineering and administrative roles, including the management of the Detroit/Hamtramck Assembly plant.

Her ascent within the company continued, with roles such as Vice President of Global Manufacturing Engineering in February 2008, and later, as Executive Vice President of Global Product Development from February 2011, playing a vital role in streamlining GM’s automobile platforms.

In January 2014, Mary Barra made history by becoming General Motors’ CEO, marking a significant milestone as the first woman to head an automobile manufacturer.

Challenges and Transformations

Mary Barra faced notable challenges in her initial years as CEO, dealing with safety recalls affecting millions of cars. Her testimony before the Senate regarding these recalls and related fatalities showcased her commitment to transparency. During her tenure, cultural changes within the company encouraged employees to report problems, while strategic acquisitions propelled General Motors into the realms of driverless and electric-powered cars.

Industry Recognition and Criticism

In 2017, Mary Barra was the highest-paid executive among the Detroit Three. However, her decision to close plants and implement layoffs in 2018 drew criticism from then-President Donald Trump. Despite challenges, her forward-looking vision aims to transition General Motors exclusively to electric vehicles (EVs) by 2035.

Contributions Beyond GM

Mary Barra’s influence extends beyond General Motors, as she serves on the boards of organisations like General Dynamics and Disney. Her involvement in academia includes roles on the Stanford University Board of Trustees and the Duke University Board of Trustees.

Awards and Recognitions

Mary Barra’s exceptional career has garnered her numerous awards and accolades, including Forbes’ Most Powerful Women list and a position on Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People in the World.” Her professional success has been complemented by recognition for integrity in public communication at the 2023 Arthur W. Page Center Awards.

Balancing Career and Life

Mary Barra’s personal life includes a marriage to Tony Barra, whom she met at Kettering University, and a family with two children. Their residence in Northville, a suburb of Detroit, reflects her commitment to balancing personal and professional responsibilities.

Impressive Net Worth

With an estimated net worth exceeding $36 million, Mary Barra’s financial success mirrors her impactful career and contributions to General Motors.

Mary Barra’s journey as the first female CEO of a ‘Big Three’ automaker symbolises innovation in the traditionally male-dominated automotive industry. Her leadership extends beyond the boardroom, and her commitment to advancing electric vehicle technology shapes the future of the automotive landscape.



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