And based on revenue--which is what the Fortune 500 is all about--she tops the rankings of women in charge of America's largest companies.
When Barra assumes the top job from current chief Dan Akerson on January 15, she'll be running the largest woman-led U.S. company, displacing Hewlett-Packard's (HPQ) Meg Whitman in that distinction.
Barra, 51, is the first female chief of a major U.S. automaker. She has cars in her blood. Her dad was a die maker for GM's Pontiac division for four decades. Barra attended college at the General Motors Institute (now Kettering University) in Flint, Michigan, as a co-op student; she worked six months of each year for GM in exchange for the company paying her annual tuition. She started in a Pontiac plant, graduated college in 1985 with a degree in electrical engineering and, over 33 years at GM, climbed to her current post as EVP of global product development, global purchasing and supply chain.
She earned the acclaim of her bosses for bringing new rigor to GM's famously dysfunctional product development process, Barra upgraded the cars and the corporate culture too. Previously head of global human resources--a role assigned to her in 2009, right after GM filed for bankruptcy--she relieved GM employees of onerous work rules and relaxed the dress codes.
You'll have to wait until next October to find out where Barra will rank on the 2014 Fortune Most Powerful Women list. But given the stature of her new job, she'll surely move way up from her No. 29 ranking on the 2013 MPW list.
The annual MPW list ranks businesswomen based on the size and importance of the business in the global economy, the health and direction of the business, the arc of the woman's career, and global influence. GM's direction has definitely been positive. Barra is copping the CEO job one day after the U.S. Treasury announced it has sold its entire stake in the once critically sick company. With a stock-market capitalization of $56.8 billion, GM is more valuable than HP, even as the stock of that troubled tech giant has almost doubled this year. IBM (IBM), which has a market cap of $192.7 billion, is the most valuable company run by a woman: Ginni Rometty, who is No. 1 on the current Fortune MPW list.
Here's Barra, interviewed by CNBC's Becky Quick, at the 2013 Fortune MPW Summit. And below is Barra, in our MPW Summit series on Breakthrough Moments in Leadership, explaining how she learned to motivate employees while running a GM assembly plant a decade ago.
In an exclusive interview with Fortune, 23andMe founder Anne Wojcicki fesses up to her failure to get approvals to market her genetic test kits.
FORTUNE -- For the first time since the FDA came down hard on 23andMe for marketing its DNA tests without proper approvals, founder and CEO Anne Wojcicki spoke about "the big challenge," as she called the firestorm, in an exclusive interview with Fortune.
I talked with Anne and MOREPatricia Sellers - Dec 4, 2013 8:31 AM ET
The boardroom is the last glass ceiling--where women are not making decent gains. Fortune 500 directors weigh in on what to do about it.
At a time when colleges are graduating significantly more women than men, barely 17% of Fortune 500 company directors are female, and progress has stalled for the past seven years. This doesn't make much sense.
One well-known corporate director stirred the pot last week, playing provocateur as I MOREPatricia Sellers - Nov 26, 2013 11:20 AM ET
The audacious entrepreneur rang in his 75th year and talked to Fortune about his extraordinary life and what's ahead.
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Maye Musk, mother of Elon, shares stories about raising the visionary entrepreneur, all while building businesses of her own.
FORTUNE -- You may recognize Maye Musk from her 2011 New York Magazine cover, a provocative photograph of the 63-year-old model, nude and photoshopped to make her appear nine months pregnant a la Demi Moore's Vanity Fair cover. (The cover line, "Is She Just Too Old For This?" teased a story about MOREColleen Leahey, Reporter - Nov 22, 2013 8:00 AM ET
Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer and six other star powerful women make Fortune's Businessperson of the Year list.
Elon Musk, one of the greatest disruptors in tech since Steve Jobs, is Fortune's 2013 Businessperson of the Year, announced this morning. Musk is the innovator behind three major startups: Tesla Motors (TSLA), SpaceEx and SolarCity (SCTY). An audacious, tenacious triple threat. But another technology exec scores a trifecta that no one else in MOREPatricia Sellers - Nov 21, 2013 12:16 PM ET
A Coke exec went homeless for a night to learn how struggling young people live--and left with new perspective on talent and opportunity.
As SVP of the Global Sparkling Brand Center at Coca-Cola (KO), Wendy Clark spends plenty of time studying young people. Understanding how young people live and what they aspire to is key to the success of this rising-star executive who oversees brand strategy and integrated marketing communications, including global MOREPatricia Sellers - Nov 18, 2013 11:16 AM ET
Executive and politician Laura Cha explains how the financial center can keep growing.
FORTUNE -- Hong Kong needs to develop additional financial-services capabilities and areas of expertise if it wants to remain a top global player, Laura Cha, chairman of Hong Kong's Financial Services Development Council, told a group of leading businesswomen here.
"We cannot afford to stand still," Cha said at Fortune Most Powerful Women Asia, an inaugural gathering of mostly MOREStephanie N. Mehta, Deputy Managing Editor - Nov 12, 2013 5:54 PM ET
Even Warren Buffett wasn't the smartest guy when he started investing. Who taught him to hunt for quality?
When Warren Buffett began investing more than 60 years ago, he tended to buy mediocre businesses at mediocre prices.
Then someone gave the Berkshire Hathaway (BRKA) CEO the best advice he says he ever got. That is: Pay up for really good businesses like American Express (AXP) and See's Candies.
Buffett's adviser: Charlie Munger, who MOREPatricia Sellers - Nov 8, 2013 1:19 PM ET
The Silicon Valley entrepreneur and Starbucks (SBUX) board member shares the leadership lessons she learned at the Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit.
By Clara Shih, founder and CEO of Hearsay Social
This October, I attended the Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit in Washington, D.C., and spoke on a panel with three other women under age 40: Warren Buffett's financial assistant Tracy Britt Cool, Cinnabon President Kat Cole, and SunRun founder and CEO MOREColleen Leahey, Reporter - Nov 7, 2013 12:42 PM ET
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