Mary Teresa Barra (née Makela), she was born December 24, 1961, is an American businesswoman who has been the chairman and CEO of General Motors Company since January 15, 2014. She is the first female CEO of a major automaker. On December 10, 2013, GM named her to succeed Dan Akerson as chief executive officer. Prior to being named CEO, Barra served as the executive vice president of Global Product Development, Purchasing, and Supply Chain at General Motors
Barra graduated from the General Motors Institute (now Kettering University) in 1985, where she obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering. Barra was inducted into the engineering honor society Tau Beta Pi. She then attended Stanford Graduate School of Business on a GM fellowship, receiving her Masters in Business Administration degree in 1990
Barra started working for General Motors in 1980 as a co-op student, when she was 18 years old. Her job was checking fender panels and inspecting hoods, and she used this job to pay for her college tuition. She subsequently held a variety of engineering and administrative positions, including managing the Detroit/Hamtramck Assembly plant.
In February 2008, she became vice president of Global Manufacturing Engineering. In July 2009, she advanced to the position of vice president of Global Human Resources, which she held until February 2011, when she was named executive vice president of Global Product Development. The latter position included responsibilities for design; she has worked to reduce the number of automobile platforms in GM. In August 2013, her vice president responsibility was extended to include Global Purchasing and Supply Chain.
When Barra took over as chief executive of General Motors in January 2014, she became the first female head of an automobile manufacturer.
During her first year as CEO, General Motors issued 84 safety recalls involving over 30 million cars. Barra was called before the Senate to testify about the recalls and deaths attributed to the faulty ignition switch. Barra and General Motors also came under suspicion of paying for awards to burnish the CEO and corporation’s image during that time. The recalls led to the creation of new policies encouraging workers to report problems they encounter in an attempt to change company culture.
As CEO, Barra made GM move into driverless and electric-powered cars through acquisitions including Strobe, a startup in driverless technology. In 2017 GM began to sell the Chevy Bolt EV, beating rival Tesla to the first electric car priced under $40,000 with a range of 200 miles.
In 2017, Barra was the highest paid Detroit Three executive, with a total remuneration of $21.96 million. In November 2018, Barra announced the closure of five North American plants and 14,000 worker lay offs. Her decision was criticized by President Trump, who threatened to remove the company’s government subsidies in response.
In August 2017, she was elected to the board of Disney. She was the 12th person elected to this board, and the fourth woman.
Barra was a member of the General Dynamics board of directors. She serves on the board of directors of the Detroit Economic Club and Detroit Country Day School. She is a member of the Stanford University Board of Trustees, the Stanford Graduate School of Business Advisory Council, and the Duke University Board of Trustees