GM chief executive Dan Akerson is making some bold changes at the newly profitable auto giant, but perhaps the most "surprising" was his decision on Thursday to name Mary Barra as GM's first female product development czar. Barra, a 30-year GM veteran who is currently head of global human relations, will be in charge of the design, quality, and engineering for the automaker's 11 brands worldwide. Will GM's famously tone-deaf design shop benefit from a woman's perspective, or could Barra be in over her head? (Watch a report about Mary Barra's promotion)
Her gender is irrelevant — she has little design experience: Barra certainly has big shoes to fill, replacing legendary design guru Bob Lutz, who retired in 2009, says consultant Maryann Keller in BusinessWeek. And it's not clear she's up to it. The GM products that "people are excited about" today can all be traced to Lutz. What make's Barra appointment especially "strange," though, is her lack of design experience. "I'm not sure that she has the background for this job."
"GM promotes first female head of vehicle development"
Her gender is symbolically important: Barra is deserving and her promotion is a crucial step "toward rewarding qualified women in the industry," say Greg Gardner and Chrissie Thompson in the Detroit Free Press. Anne Doyle, a former Ford exec and author of the book Powering Up!: How Americas Women Achievers Become Leaders, who's quoted in the Press, agrees: "It's very significant for General Motors," but in terms of gender representation in the auto industry, "we have a long, long, long way to go."
"GM names new head of product development"
She's an inspired choice: Actually, "we've been watching Mary Barra for a long time," says Edmunds.com Senior Analyst Michelle Krebs, as quoted in CNNMoney.com. "She's been an up-and-comer so it wasn't a total shock," and it "makes a lot of sense" that GM finally tapped a woman for the job. After all, "over 80 percent of vehicle purchase decisions in the U.S. are influenced by women."
"GM taps first woman as product development chief"