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Holden shock as GM changes leaders

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GM, the parent company of Holden, has a new boss  – Stanford University MBA Mary Barra.

Current chief executive Dan Akerson resigned Tuesday.

Barra,51, becomes the first woman to lead the largest US car maker.

Akerson had accelerated the succession plan by several months after his wife was recently diagnosed with “an advanced stage of cancer”, the company said.

Advising Barra on the major transition of its Australian options will now be Dan Ammann, currently executive vice president and chief financial officer, who will become president and assume responsibility for regional operations around the world.

Barra, currently executive vice president for global product development, purchasing and supply chain, will assume the post on January 15.

Akerson joined GM as a board member during its financial crisis in 2009.

He was named chairman and CEO in 2010 and has headed the Detroit-based car giant during a period of resurgent profitability.

Since emerging from bankruptcy GM has logged 15 consecutive quarters of profitability.

“My goals as CEO were to put the customer at the center of every decision we make, to position GM for long-term success and to make GM a company that America can be proud of again,” Akerson said.

In a clear sign that he would not be making any more major decisions and was handing the reins over, he said; “We are well down that path, and I’m certain that our new team will keep us moving in that direction.”

Barra has worked at GM for 33 years, rising through a series of manufacturing, engineering and senior staff positions.

GM, in a statement today, called her “a leader in the company’s ongoing turnaround”.

An engineer by training, Barra has also served as vice president of global human resources, where she was credited with shaking up a corporate culture that had depressed profits and innovation.

Tuesday’s announcement unveiled a series of other significant executive changes, including news that board member Theodore Solso would succeed Akerson as chairman.

Dan Ammann, currently executive vice president and chief financial officer, will become president and assume responsibility for regional operations around the world. The global Chevrolet and Cadillac brands will report to him. A replacement as CFO will be named later.

US business news site BloombergBusinessweek profiled Barra in June this year; her colleagues and industry observers said she was more of a people person than a “car guy”.

“Barra, 51, comes across as measured and standard-issue corporate, the opposite of swaggering,” the profile said.

“Rather than brag about the awesome torque of the new Corvette, she talks about ‘driving an organization that’s customer focused’.

“She considered buying a restored Chevrolet Camaro a few years ago but hasn’t, in part because, says a confidante, it would be a dangerous temptation for her teenage son.

“She’s a corporate survivor who’s played a role in the soap opera of GM management for a generation, emerging on a very public stage as the leader of the company’s $15 billion vehicle development operations, a role that will largely determine the success or failure of the company for a decade or more.”

Barra started at GM as an intern and has worked her way through the company over some 33 years.

She has worked in engineering and run an assembly plant, among other product-centric roles.

Responses to her elevation to the top job at GM suggest change, but nothing dramatic, in the GM direction.

“We’ve seen some of the best products released under Mary Barra, who has helped to oversee the development of their vehicles on a global scale,” Jared Rowe, president of auto information company Kelley Blue Book, said.

“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.”

– with AFP

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