History for women in business was made when Mary Barra was named the new CEO of GM on December 10th of 2013. Barra is the first female CEO of a US car company, changing a tide that was once a male-dominated industry and led almost exclusively by men.
What’s even more surprising is that Mary Barra started out at GM as an intern. Painstakingly, and with great tact and confidence, she climbed the corporate ladder from the day she started out with the company at age 18. She held multiple positions with the company, including a year and a half as GM’s head of human resources before moving on to be SVP of Product Development in 2011.
Mary Barra is the daughter of a 39-year employee of GM. Her father was a die maker at the company. Her blue collar upbringing taught her how to work hard, work well, and develop a bit of grit to get things done.
One of Mary’s first orders of business is to live by her own motto, “No more crappy cars.” The motto, which she lived by as director of product development, is in reference to GM’s previous reputation as a maker of sub-par automobiles. Bara seeks a higher level of performance for GM, perhaps because she has been with the automaker for all of her career and had seen it in its glory days.
At 18 years of age, Barra secured a position as a co-op student, working for GM in a number of roles from administrative to engineering duties. She was once even the manager of the Detroit/Hamtramck assembly plant. Mary Barra attended the General Motors Institute (now called Kettering University) where she studied electrical engineering. She also was the recipient of a GM fellowship at the Stanford Graduate School of Business in 1988 and later obtained an MBA from Stanford in 1990.
Mary Barra worked her way up from an 18-year old intern to today running the company as the CEO. In an industry dominated by men, Ms. Barra stands as an example of what can be achieved through hard work and professional development. Mary Barra wasn’t the best man for the job; she was the woman that knew the business from the inside out.
Glass ceilings can shatter if you have built a strong enough ladder and the support of great people holding that ladder steady.
About the Author
Learn more about the author of this article, Mischaela Elkins, on her website.