Mary Barra made history in 2014 when she became the first female CEO of General Motors (GM), one of the biggest automakers in the world, and the first woman to hold this title in the historically male-dominated auto industry.1 Barra, who has worked at GM since the start of her career, has long been a trailblazer in the automotive field. She grew up immersed in the industry—her father having worked at GM’s Pontiac Division for nearly 40 years—and has made numerous contributions throughout her four decades at GM.
Barra began her career with GM in 1980, inspecting fenders and hoods in the Pontiac Motor Division, while earning her undergraduate degree at General Motors Institute (now Kettering University). Upon graduating, Barra began working with Pontiac as a Senior Engineer. After she quickly showed promise as a leader, GM awarded her a fellowship to earn a Master of Business Administration from Stanford University.
Following graduate school, Barra rose through the ranks at GM, taking on a variety of leadership positions, including Manager of Manufacturing Planning, Executive Assistant to the Chairman, Director of Internal Communications, and Plant Manager. In 2004, she became Executive Director of Vehicle Manufacturing Engineering at GM, where she integrated six independent groups into one operation in order to streamline product development. She served as Vice President of Global Human Resources for two years, changing outdated policies and redefining leadership development, compensation, and benefits at the company. Beginning in 2011, Barra led the Global Product Development Division, where she was responsible for overseeing design, engineering, purchasing, supply chain and logistics.
Barra assumed the role of CEO of General Motors in 2014 and has established a reputation as one of the industry’s most respected chief executives. She faced and overcame several major challenges in her early years as GM’s CEO. Soon after her appointment, Barra navigated GM through a crisis when the company came under fire for a faulty ignition switch that led to over 100 deaths. To address concerns over safety, she implemented new policies to empower employees to report problems and focused on transparency. In addition, Barra led the company—which had faced bankruptcy only a few years before—to achieve record global sales and net income in 2015.
Barra has led the charge to modernize GM, introducing new electric vehicles with the goal of becoming fully electric in the near future. She has focused her efforts on improving the customer experience and transforming personal mobility through technologies like connectivity and autonomous driving. Central to her vision of GM’s future is the goal of making it “the most inclusive employer in the world,” by attracting a diverse workforce and providing professional development opportunities to ensure people of all backgrounds can excel in all levels of the company.
As the first female CEO in the automotive industry, Barra has earned numerous accolades for her achievements, including being recognized as one of the most influential women in business by Forbes, Fortune, and Time. She was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in 2023.