Leading Ladies of Culture: Mary Barra
World-changing women can be found in any field. Whether it’s in medicine, law, business, STEM, or education, there are women who leave their mark and serve as inspirations to people everywhere. This month’s leading lady of culture is Mary Barra, the Chief Executive Officer of General Motors.
Mary Barra began her career at General Motors at the age of 18, when she participated in a program where her job was to inspect fender and hood panels at a Pontiac plant. She then became a cooperative education student in the Pontiac Motor Division at the General Motors Institute of Technology, now known as Kettering University. After receiving her Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering in 1985, Barra started off as a senior engineer at a Pontiac Fiero plant. While working there, GM saw that she had management potential and granted her a fellowship to get a Masters in Business Administration from the Stanford Graduate School of Business.
In the mid 1990s, Barra was given the opportunity to work in the GM headquarters as the executive assistant to then-CEO Jack Smith and Vice Chairman Harry Pearce. After seeing the management side of GM, Barra moved back to engineering and became the plant manager of the Detroit Hamtramck Assembly, where she was in charge of a total of 3,400 employees. Barra’s role at GM grew more important over the years and in 2009, she became the Vice President of Global Human Resources during GM’s bankruptcy period, helping to solve a multitude of issues such as inefficient internal organization and poor manufacturing processes. As a result of her great work, Barra was named the Senior Vice President for Global Product Development, overseeing the design, quality, and engineering of GM products. Two years later, she had the added responsibility of managing GM’s worldwide purchasing and supply chain as the Executive Vice President of Global Product Development.
In 2014, Barra was chosen to succeed former CEO Dan Akerson, not only becoming the first female CEO of General Motors, but the first woman to run a major global automaker. As head of the company, Barra was able to drive strong domestic sales and create steady development in Europe as well as new growth in China’s markets. With her huge impact on the auto industry, Barra is most certainly a leading lady of culture.