Why Mary Barra Is a Good Choice at GM

Gary S. Vasilash

One of the obvious-but-overlooked aspects of the auto industry is that all of those cars and trucks, all of those engines and bodies, all of those interiors and chassis are actually made in honest-to-goodness factories, places full of welding robots and stamping presses, machining centers and cutting tools devices, fixtures and material handling devices.

When people look at Consumer Reports’ ratings and J.D. Power Survey results, they sometimes don’t take into account the fact that unless the auto companies and the multitudinous suppliers that manufacture the parts and subassemblies, systems and vehicles don’t get it right, don’t do a superlative job of production, then the ratings and results will be disappointing at most.


Yes, manufacturing—cutting and bending, forming and shaping, welding and assembling—is fundamental.

Today General Motors announced that Mary Barra, senior vice president, Global Product Development, will succeed Dan Akerson as CEO of the corporation in January.

Some people are taken aback at this choice because they don’t consider Barra sufficiently steeped in the product side of things (despite the position she’s been in for the past couple years and the fact that she’s been with the automaker since 1980).

But there’s one section of her resume that gives us confidence.

Barra was plant manager of the Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant.

Barra was executive director of Competitive Operations Engineering.

Barra was GM vice president of Global Manufacturing Engineering.

That’s right: Mary Barra knows manufacturing like few in her position do.

And that’s critical, if often not considered.

(She also has an MBA from Stanford. Well, presumably that does help vis-à-vis the financials.)

Here’s wishing her great success.