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GM’s Mary Barra has a plan to win the electric vehicle race

by YAR

The daughter of a GM die maker, Ms. Barra, 60, grew up in Royal Oak, Michigan, and began working at a GM plant as an intern at age 18 while studying electrical engineering at the technical school of the company, now called Kettering University. Through a GM scholarship, she earned an MBA from Stanford. Since entering the management ranks, she has held senior positions in global manufacturing, human resources, product development, and supply chain management.

In January 2014, she succeeded Daniel F. Akerson as CEO and became the first woman to lead a major automotive company. Ms. Barra guided GM through a scandal stemming from an ignition switch failure linked to accidents resulting in more than 100 deaths. She then made a series of decisions that showed that General Motors, which had just emerged from bankruptcy, was not the heavyweight, conservative giant that consumers and investors had known for a century.

In a move that would have once been unthinkable, it decided to pull out of the European market, a slow-growing, low-margin region where GM had posted losses for two decades. GM sold its European operations to France’s Peugeot SA, now part of Stellantis. Included in the sale was the Opel division, which had been owned by GM since 1929.

Getting rid of money-losing businesses that had been tolerated for years “helped change the whole mindset,” he said. “The whole company said, ‘Well, this is a new day.'”

GM, which has long prided itself on developing its own technology, also acquired an automated vehicle start-up company, Cruise Automation. In another precedent-breaking move, GM has brought in outside investors, including Honda and T. Rowe Price, to share the costs and risks of spending billions of dollars on autonomous vehicles.

Along the way, Ms. Barra formed a close partnership with Mr. Reuss, a contemporary who had been a candidate for the top job in 2014. He too spent his career at GM and followed his own father, Lloyd Reuss, a former president of the company.

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