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.
Warren Buffett and Glenn Close brought down the house at the opening of the Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit.
After Senator Susan Collins and IMF chief Christine Lagarde kicked off the 2013 Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit in Washington D.C. Tuesday night with grim views of the dangers of the U.S. government shutdown, actress Glenn Close lightened the mood in high style. Taking the MPW Summit stage to disclose that she's venturing into a new phase of MOREPatricia Sellers - Oct 16, 2013 6:23 AM ET
Fortune's Most Powerful Women list has changed dramatically over 15 years. New stars have emerged. And for the first time, the most famous superstar didn't make the cut.
When Fortune published its first Most Powerful Women in Business list in 1998, there was Carly Fiorina at the top and not a huge amount of power underneath.
Relatively speaking, that is.
That 1998 Fortune MPW list included just two Fortune 500 CEOs: Jill Barad MOREPatricia Sellers - Oct 10, 2013 4:56 PM ET
Women in technology top the Fortune Most Powerful Women list. Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayer move up. Meg Whitman slips. Who's No. 1? IBM rules again.
Ginni Rometty is Fortune's 2013 Most Powerful Woman in Business. The (IBM) chairman and CEO, who took charge at the start of 2012, takes the No. 1 spot on the MPW list for the second year in a row.
PepsiCo (PEP) CEO Indra Nooyi retains her MOREPatricia Sellers - Oct 10, 2013 9:00 AM ET
At the Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit last week, I was standing in the green room with Karen Hughes, once a top adviser to President George W. Bush and now vice-chair at PR giant Burson-Marsteller. "So many of the lessons that the business leaders are talking about here are applicable to Washington," Hughes said to me, reciting quotes from the on-stage interviews with CEOs such as IBM's Ginny Rometty and MOREPatricia Sellers - Oct 8, 2012 1:06 PM ET
The Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit packed in famous names and exclusive interviews on Tuesday.
IBM (IBM) CEO Ginni Rometty, No. 1 on the 2012 Most Powerful Women list, did her first interview since taking the CEO job in January.
Kraft Foods CEO Irene Rosenfeld talked strategy on the day she split her business into two new companies.
Former Yahoo (YHOO) CEO Carol Bartz gave advice to new chief Marissa Mayer on reviving the MOREPatricia Sellers - Oct 3, 2012 8:48 AM ET
Looking back on 15 Most Powerful Women lists and the shifting definition of "power."
FORTUNE -- Here is what I learned from being present at the creation of Fortune Most Powerful Women in 1998 and helping to produce the annual MPW list 15 times.
Power is what you make it.
And Power, in the minds of the Fortune MPW, has changed greatly.
Let me explain, by taking you back to MPW's beginnings. MPW started, MOREPatricia Sellers - Sep 20, 2012 6:15 AM ET
A year ago, I began my first day at Fortune magazine. A bundle of ambition with no direction, I wondered if I would sink or swim. During my first morning meeting, I was sandwiched between two writers discussing derivatives over coffee. I seriously questioned my own intelligence.
Within two weeks, my sea legs finally took. The Fortune Most Powerful Women brand -- and the editors behind it -- pushed me to MOREColleen Leahey, Reporter - Jul 3, 2012 10:22 AM ET
Ginni Rometty is the next CEO of IBM, the company announced this afternoon.
With that news comes a stunning stat: America's two largest tech companies will be headed by women.
Meg Whitman, who built eBay (EBAY), became CEO of Hewlett-Packard last month.
H-P (HPQ) is No. 11 on the Fortune 500. IBM (IBM) is No. 18.
Both women spoke at the recent Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit. Rometty's main message (and one that Whitman MOREPatricia Sellers - Oct 25, 2011 5:41 PM ET
What happens when influential women like Meg Whitman, Ellen Kullman - and a guy: Warren Buffett - get together? They share smart ideas and - forge unexpected new relationships.
FORTUNE -- Big topics -- the global economy, presidential politics, boardroom drama -- got plenty of airtime at Fortune's annual Most Powerful Women Summit in early October. Meg Whitman (No. 9), the new CEO of Hewlett-Packard (HPQ), outlined plans for calming the waters at MOREPatricia Sellers - Oct 25, 2011 5:00 AM ET
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