Canadian Manufacturing

New GM CEO Barra to accelerate predecessor’s plans

GM is the world's second-largest automaker by sales last year after Toyota, with 9.7 million vehicles sold



DETROIT—General Motors Co.’s new CEO, Mary Barra, says she will maintain the plans of her predecessor, from restructuring European operations to a focus on improving profit margins.

But she hopes to accelerate that progress.

Barra promised not to veer from the path laid out by former CEO Dan Akerson, who stepped down to care for his ailing wife. Under Akerson, GM rebounded from a 2009 trip to bankruptcy court. It became a publicly-traded company again and reported a profit for 15 straight quarters, racking up almost $20 billion in net income. GM restored its quarterly dividend on Akerson’s last day.

“We’re no longer just looking for viability, but we’re looking for growth and leadership in the operations we have around the world,” Barra said. “Now that some of those things have gotten the attention and are righted, let’s take it and go.”

Barra is going ahead with a European restructuring plan that will cost the automaker $1.1 billion this year. GM still expects to achieve 10-per cent pretax profit margins in North America and break even in Europe by the middle of this decade, she said. It also wants to increase annual sales in China to five million by next year, up from 3.1 million last year.

Barra was Akerson’s global product development chief and part of a team that helped him develop this strategy, so she’s comfortable with his goals.

Barra says GM—the world’s second-largest automaker by sales last year after Toyota, with 9.7 million vehicles sold—is making strong products, but customers don’t always know that.

Among her priorities is making GM’s brand messages clear and consistent worldwide. New vehicles like the Cadillac ATS sedan—which goes on sale in China this year—can help Cadillac become a global luxury brand.

Barra, a 33-year veteran of the company, said she has always had a collaborative leadership style from her earliest days as an engineer at GM’s plants. She said she works well with Dan Ammann, GM’s new president, and Mark Reuss, GM’s new head of global product development.

“I’ve always been focused on winning the hearts and minds of the employee base,” she said.

Barra, the first female CEO of a major automaker, said she is happy if her appointment helps motivate others. But she doesn’t give much thought to her gender.

“I never approached any job as, ‘Oh, I’m a woman doing this job,”’ she said. “I want to be valued for leading the team and the results we achieve.”

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