Profiles in Power: Mary Barra

Mary Barra 


Mary Teresa Barra was born on December 24, 1961. She is the chairman and Chief Executive Officer of General Motors Company. Having held the position since January 2014, May Barra is the first ever woman to hold such a position of a high ranking global automaker. On December 2013, General Motor appointed her to succeed the former CEO, Dan Akerson. Before that, she had held the position of Executive Vice President at GM, overseeing Global Product Development, Product Purchasing, and Product Supply Chain. She was featured on Time Magazine’s cover for “100 Most Influential People in The World” on April, 2014.



Mary Barra was born as May Teresa Makela in 1961, to parents of Finnish descent. Her father worked at Pontiac as a die-maker for over 39 years. Berra studied Electrical Engineering at Kettering University (the then General Motors Institute) and obtained a bachelor’s degree. In 1988, she received the GM fellowship at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, and proceeded to obtain her Master’s degree in Business Administration in 1990, from the same school. She met her husband, Tony Barra, while studying at the Kettering University.

Berra started to work for General Motors when she was eighteen. From being a co-op student at the start in 1980, she went in to hold a number of different administrative and engineering positions, which included being the manager of GM’s assembly plant in Detroit.



In February 2008, Mary Barra was named as the Global Manufacturing Engineering’s Vice President. She moved up to the Vice President position of the Global Human Resources in July, 2009, and held that position until she was named as Global Product Development’s Executive Vice President. Saddled with the responsibility of overseeing design in her position as the head of Global Product Development, Barra oversaw the reduction of the automobile platform numbers in Global Motors. More responsibilities were added to her vice president role in august 2014, as she was also saddled with overseeing the affairs of GM’s Global Purchasing and the Supply Chain.

As a replacement for Dan Akerson, the outgoing CEO, Mary Barra was appointed in December 2013, and assumed the role in January 2014. In her first year as the CEO of General Motors, the company were forced to issue over eighty-four safety recalls which affected up to 30 million cars. She was summoned to appear before the senate to account for the recalls, and the fatality attributed to faulty ignition switch. General Motor and Mary Barra were suspected of making payments for several awards to polish the image of the corporation and the CEO during that period.

In 2014, Mary Barra was named by Forbes Magazine as being one of the most powerful women in the world, rising from a position of 35th the previous year to be listed as 7th on the Forbes list. She also bagged an honorary degree from the University of Michigan in 2014, after delivering her spring commencement address at the Michigan stadium. In 2015, she was named the most powerful woman by Fortune.