GM's New CEO Marks A Return To Tradition

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Mary Barra has broken through the glass ceiling of the auto industry to become the first female CEO of General Motors. She'll take the helm of GM in January. But Barra is actually a return to tradition in other ways: GM will be led by an insider, and an engineer, for the first time in many years.

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And here's even bigger news from General Motors, it has chosen a woman as its next chief executive officer, a first in America's auto industry. She's an engineer at the company insider - which could be a lot more important to GM's future than her gender.

Michigan Radio's Tracy Samilton reports.

TRACY SAMILTON, BYLINE: Mary Barra follows in the wake of two CEOs from outside the auto industry. Dan Akerson ran a large private equity fund before taking the helm of GM. Before him, it was Ed Whitaker - a telecommunications guy.

JOHN WOLKONOWICZ: I'm pleased to see them name a GM insider to this position.

SAMILTON: That's independent auto analyst John Wolkonowicz. He says unlike her predecessors, Barra can hit the ground running - because she already knows GM from top to bottom.

WOLKONOWICZ: She's got 33 years in General Motors and she's had a wide array of positions.

SAMILTON: And, Barra is an engineer. Marina Whitman is a former GM vice president who says that is a breath of fresh air that GM sorely needs. She says, other than a brief stint by Robert Stempel...

MARINA WHITMAN: I don't know of any other engineers who've been at the top at GM, at least in post-WWII history. It's mainly been finance people.

SAMILTON: Whitman says Barra inherits a GM that's in much better shape than it was before the bankruptcy, and its cars are a lot better, too. But, she says there's still a huge amount of work to make GM function as one efficient unit.

WHITMAN: So I think there's still plenty on her plate.

SAMILTON: Barra assumes the CEO job at GM on January 15th, just as the Detroit auto show gets under way.

For NPR News, I'm Tracy Samilton.

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