Last week, General Motors announced that Executive Vice President Mary Barra would be replacing CEO Dan Akerson, who will be stepping down from his position to spend more time with his wife in light of her advanced cancer.
Barra is a 33-year veteran of GM and will become its fifth CEO in as many years. She is assuming this position at a unique time for the General Motors brand. The announcement of her ascension came one day after the federal government stated, via the U.S. Department of the Treasury, that it had sold its remaining financial stake in the company, which was initially purchased during the automotive bailouts in 2009. In addition, J.D. Power gave GM its first top rank in product quality in its yearly automotive survey, a sharp turnaround from the much-maligned products that characterized GM through the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st.
As the executive vice president, Barra focused heavily on international design, program management, engineering and quality. She has also served as the vice president of global human resources. This extensive history within the company should theoretically help her to continue to push GM’s brand forward, given the extensive product renovation currently in progress.
In addition to a revolution in the way that GM actually builds its vehicles, the company has doubled down on its efforts to reshape its brand image. Earlier this week, Akerson released a statement commending the changes that the company is currently undergoing, confidently stating that it was beginning to shed its clunky and outdated “Government Motors” image.
Barra is not expected to make radical changes to GM’s marketing strategy. The automaker’s $3 billion marketing budget ranks as the second highest among all corporate ad budgets. However, it is worth noting that there have been shifts in accounts under each of the recent GM CEOs, and it would be reasonable to expect this to happen under Barra as well. In addition, Alan Batey, formerly the senior vice president for global Chevrolet and U.S. sales and marketing, has been promoted to an executive vice president role. This will inevitably bring increased marketing innovation into the executive boardroom.
The rise of Mary Barra, GM’s first female CEO, represents a new chapter in GM’s long and storied history. Not only is she the first female CEO in a long line of males, but she is assuming the top job at a time of unique innovation in the history of GM.