Mary Teresa Barra (ne Makela; born December 24, 1961) is the chair and CEO of General Motors Company . She has held the CEO position since January 15, 2014, and she is the first female CEO of a major automaker. On December 10, 2013, GM named her to succeed Dan Akerson as chief executive officer, and prior to that, Barra served as the executive vice president of Global Product Development, Purchasing, and Supply Chain at General Motors.
Barra was born in Royal Oak, Michigan. Barra’s parents are of Finnish descent. Barra’s ancestors are from the village of Kankaanp [fi], in Satakunta province, from the former municipality of Kyli. Her grandfather Viktor Mkel, moved to the United States and married Maria Luoma, a Finnish immigrant from Teuva. They lived in Minnesota‘s small mining town of Mountain Iron. They had three children, including a son named Reino, also called Ray. Her father Ray married a second-generation Finnish American named Eva Pyykknen, and Mary was born in 1961. Ray worked for 39 years at the Pontiac car factory in Detroit, and the family lived in Waterford, Michigan. Barra attended Waterford schools in Michigan. She is a graduate of Waterford Mott High School.
Barra graduated from the General Motors Institute (now Kettering University), where she obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering. She then attended Stanford Graduate School of Business on a GM fellowship, receiving her Masters in Business Administration degree in 1990.
Barra started working for General Motors, at age 18, as a co-op student, in 1980, checking fender panels and inspecting hoods to pay for her college tuition. and subsequently held a variety of engineering and administrative positions, including managing the Detroit/Hamtramck Assembly plant.
In February 2008, she became vice president of Global Manufacturing Engineering. In July 2009, she advanced to the position of vice president of Global Human Resources, which she held until February 2011, when she was named executive vice president of Global Product Development. The latter position included responsibilities for design; she has worked to reduce the number of automobile platforms in GM. In August 2013, her vice president responsibility was extended to include Global Purchasing and Supply Chain.
When Barra took over as chief executive of General Motors in January 2014, she became the first female head of an automobile manufacturer.
During her first year as CEO, General Motors issued 84 safety recalls involving over 30 million cars. Barra was called before the Senate to testify about the recalls and deaths attributed to the faulty ignition switch. Barra and General Motors also came under suspicion of paying for awards to burnish the CEO and corporation’s image during that time. The recalls led to the creation of new policies encouraging workers to report problems they encounter in an attempt to change company culture.
As CEO, Barra has placed GM’s focus as a company transitioning into the tech space by moving forward in the automated driverless car space with major acquisitions including Strobe, a startup focused on driverless technology. In 2017 she pushed GM to develop the Chevy Bolt EV, beating rival Tesla in developing the first electric car priced under $40,000 with a range of 200 miles.
In 2017, Barra was the highest paid Detroit Three executive, with a total remuneration of $21.96 million. In November 2018, Barra announced the closure of five North American plants and 14,000 worker lay offs. Her decision was criticized by President Trump, who threatened to remove the company’s government subsidies in response.
Other boards and councils
Barra was a member of the General Dynamics board of directors. She serves on the board of directors of the Detroit Economic Club and Detroit Country Day School. She also serves as a member of The Business Council. She is a member of the Stanford University board of trustees, and the Stanford Graduate School of Business advisory council.
Awards and honors
In May 2014, she delivered the commencement address for University of Michigan‘s Ann Arbor campus at Michigan Stadium, and received an honorary degree.In 2018, she received an honorary Doctorate from Duke University.
In December 2016, Barra joined a business forum assembled by then President-Elect Donald Trump to provide strategic and policy advice on economic issues. However, she left the forum in 2017, following Trump’s response to the Charlottesville protests.
In September 2018, Barra was awarded the Yale Chief Executive Leadership Institute’s Legend in Leadership Award.