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.
"Originally, we were not planning on expanding or anything." - Mark Zuckerberg, August 2006
As Facebook (FB) launched its IPO this morning, I plowed into my archives and found notes from Mark Zuckerberg's visit to Fortune six years ago. The Facebook founder was a 22-year-old Harvard dropout and virgin CEO. I was reporting a cover story about MySpace, then the hottest social-networking site on the planet.
Zuck had a plan to change MOREPatricia Sellers - May 18, 2012 12:51 PM ET
"When Ed Whitacre decides, it's not negotiable. If he decides against you, you're done."
--Coca-Cola (KO) exec Wendy Clark, about General Motors' (GM) new CEO, whom she worked for when he headed AT&T (ATT). Today, the GM board ousted CEO Fritz Henderson, who was in the post just eight months, and installed Whitacre, GM's chairman, as the new chief executive.
No doubt, Whitacre had a key role in the power shift.
And hearing MOREPatricia Sellers - Dec 1, 2009 6:11 PM ET
by Patricia Sellers
You might call Al Koch the world's biggest trash collector. As bankrupt General Motors (GM) splits into two parts -- New GM, containing Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick, and GMC, and Old GM, containing designated bad assets such as Pontiac, Saturn, Hummer, Saab -- Koch is the hired gun who's supposed to create value from that latter lot.
Bringing "New GM" out of bankruptcy will be difficult enough. Why would anyone MOREPatricia Sellers - Jun 1, 2009 2:41 PM ET
We love this ad:
"You can file our obituary where the sun don't shine. It's times like these that raise the important questions. Do you cower, or do you live free. Do you succumb to fear and doubt, or do you seize the throttle and give it a fearless twist forward. From where we sit in the saddle, we see American companies and good old American ingenuity wrenching the life back MOREJessica Shambora, Writer-Reporter - Mar 30, 2009 6:46 PM ET
Barack Obama's hair is turning gray. The New York Times reported the other day that a President typically ages two years for every year in the job. Thank goodness our new President is only 47 years old. The way things are going right now, I suspect he'll age twice as fast as other Presidents.
We learned this week that things are worse than we thought. General Electric (GE) CEO Jeff Immelt, MOREPatricia Sellers - Mar 6, 2009 1:02 PM ET
I was in California this past week and I'm happy to report that the Golden State did not fall into the Pacific Ocean.
It seemed it might, as inches of rain drenched Silicon Valley and the state government fought off insolvency. What a disaster California is right now, even after the legislature yesterday approved a plan to close a $42 billion budget deficit and end the "fiscal emergency" that the action-hero MOREPatricia Sellers - Feb 20, 2009 1:51 PM ET
You think you lost a bundle in the market? The CEOs who lead the companies in the upper decks of the Fortune 500 have fared even worse: Their stock holdings in their own companies declined in value by $54 billion last year.
A just-released study by executive compensation consultancy Steven Hall & Partners sums up the damage. For CEOs who head 175 of the top 200 corporations in the Fortune 500, MOREPatricia Sellers - Jan 22, 2009 2:06 PM ET
by Jessica Shambora
When Ellen Kullman stepped into the CEO role at DuPont (DD) this month, she became the 13th female Fortune 500 CEO. That's a milestone. But Kullman's ascension passed with little fanfare. She addressed employees in a year-end video on DuPont's intranet site but has yet to address them as a group or to send out a company-wide email since the start of the year.
Why so quiet? Well, unlike MOREJessica Shambora, Writer-Reporter - Jan 8, 2009 2:31 PM ET
By Jessica Shambora
It's Christmas week, always a quiet time at workplaces across the country. But this holiday is anything but typical. The quiet will stretch way beyond Christmas at many offices and factories this year.
No surprise, the Big Three automakers are temporarily shutting North American plants, in numbers correlating to their varying degrees of peril. Chrysler closed all 30 of its plants for a month. General Motors (GM) followed suit MOREJessica Shambora, Writer-Reporter - Dec 22, 2008 3:27 PM ET
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