Ten years ago, you might have guessed that the United States would have a woman president before a woman became head of any of the Detroit automakers — especially General Motors, the stodgiest member of an industry known for a closed, male-dominated culture.
But Mary Barra smashed through that glass ceiling. She will become chief executive officer next month of what was for many years the biggest corporation in the world and is still America’s largest automaker. There are a lot of reasons to like this appointment.
The biggest is that Ms. Barra’s promotion is not purely symbolic. For the first time in many years, GM will be led not by an outsider or a “bean counter,” but by a person whose roots and passion are in the product itself.
Trained as an engineer, Ms. Barra, 51, has most recently been GM’s head of global product development. She is regarded as a hard-working, efficient and humane manager.
She has her work cut out for her. GM is profitable again after its bankruptcy and near-death experience, but its U.S. market share is stuck at just 18 percent, and it faces increasing global competition.
The pre-bankruptcy GM was badly hurt by narrow-minded thinking by executives with similar backgrounds. Yet this is no longer your father’s GM: Its last two chief executives spent most of their careers in the telecommunications industry, and the automaker has been considerably shaken up in recent years.
We wish Ms. Barra all the best, for the sake of the company and the thousands of young women who are bound to see her as a role model.