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General Motors Executive Vice President, Global Product Development & Global Purchasing & Supply Chain Mary Barra (R) is pictured with Chairman and CEO Daniel Akerson in Detroit, Michigan in this January 10, 2012 handout photo. REUTERS/John F. Martin/General Motors/Handout via Reuters General Motors Executive Vice President, Global Product Development & Global Purchasing & Supply Chain Mary Barra (R) is pictured with Chairman and CEO Daniel Akerson in Detroit, Michigan in this January 10, 2012 handout photo. REUTERS/John F. Martin/General Motors/Handout via Reuters  

GM appoints Mary Barra first female CEO

Those who say being an intern does not pay off have never met Mary Barra.

Over three decades after she began an internship with General Motors at the age of 18, Mary Barra is now scheduled to replace Dan Akerson as the company’s chief executive officer on January 15, 2013, the automaker announced.

Although this promotion will make Barra the first female to head a leading automotive company, appointing her to this position was not a surprising choice, says Erik Gordon, a professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business.

Gordon explained to the Ass0ciated Press that GM’s last two CEOs, Akerson and Ed Whitacre, came from finance and  telecommunications and, respectively, and had no prior experience in the auto industry.

“There’s nobody with more years of honest ‘car-guy’ credentials than she has,” Gordon told the AP. “She started off as a little-girl car guy. She became a big-girl car guy and how she’s a woman car guy. She’s the one to do the breakthrough.”

Prior to being chosen as the company’s next CEO, Barra filled a number of roles at GM, including her most recent position as senior vice president for global product development. In this job she oversaw the design, engineering and quality of all of GM’s vehicles around the globe. During her tenure at this position she shepherded the release of Chevrolet Silverado, GMC Sierra, the Chevrolet Impala full-size car and the new Chevrolet Corvette.

This announcement came just a day after The Treasury Department sold its final stake in GM, closing the book on its $49.5 billion bailout of the company in 2009. The government ultimately recouped $39 billion of its loan, which leaves taxpayers with a loss of $10.5 billion.

In a recent interview with Stanford Alumni Magazine — she received her MBA from the school — Barry recounted the dark days of the Detroit automaker’s plummet into bankruptcy, “It was a very difficult, and very humbling, time,” she said, expressing confidence the company would make it through.

GM eventually did make it through. With the help of billions in tax payer dollars and a revamped business plan, GM is now on track to report its fastest growth sales since 2007.

Barry expressed pride in GM’s recovery and optimism for the years to come.

“With an amazing portfolio of cars and trucks and the strongest financial performance in our recent history, this is an exciting time at today’s GM. I’m honored to lead the best team in the business and to keep our momentum at full speed,” she said in a statement.

In the wake of Tuesday’s news, Akerson said in a message to employees, “I will leave with great satisfaction in what we have accomplished, great optimism over what is ahead and great pride that we are restoring General Motors as America’s standard bearer in the global auto industry.”

Not all is clear sailing, however. GM’s stock value rose to $40.90 after the government sold the last of its shares on Monday, but shares fell 20 cents, or 0.5 percent, to $40.70 after GM announced Barra would be replacing Akerson as CEO. The auto behemoth remains saddled with inflexible union commitments, including $71 billion in pension liabilities, which exceed the company’s market valuation by $20 billion.

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