During her commencement speech at Kettering University in 2013, Mary Barra ’85 told students, “Opportunities will arise (for you) that you simply cannot imagine today.” A few months later, Barra was named CEO of General Motors Corp., the first female to lead a global automaker.
Barra, who succeeded Dan Akerson, was previously the General Motors senior vice president, Global Product Development. She currently sits on the Kettering University Board of Trustees. Under her leadership, GM is driving to become the global industry leader in automotive design and technology, product quality, customer care and business results.
Barra began her career with GM in 1980 as a Kettering University (then General Motors Institute) co-op student at the Pontiac Motor Division. She graduated in 1985 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering. In 1988 Barra was awarded a GM fellowship and in 1990 she graduated from the Stanford Graduate School of Business with a masters degree in Business Administration.
During her commencement speech, Barra spoke highly of the current generation of students preparing to enter the workforce.
"There are 18 million of you in the 'Millenial Generation,'" Barra said. "You are the largest, richest and most tech savvy generation in history. But you are also the most inclusive and the most optimistic. Kettering students have an opportunity to impact the world. The practical, real-world experience that a Kettering education provides is as practical today as it was 30 years ago."
Barra’s path to global leadership started in some of the same classrooms current Kettering students are preparing for future impactful careers. Those same attributes, which were further developed during her career, are what made her standout at GM.
“I’ve met and worked with many executives, both in the U.S. and abroad,” said Kettering President Robert McMahan. “She is among the standouts. I have not seen a weakness.”
She’s had a distinguished career at GM, beginning with her co-op experience. Barra was named Senior Vice President, Global Product Development in February 2011. She was responsible for the design, engineering, program management and quality for General Motors’ vehicles around the world. She is a member of the Executive Operations Committee and serves on the Adam Opel AG Supervisory Board.
Prior to this, Barra was most recently vice president, Global Human Resources. She has also served as GM Vice President, Global Manufacturing Engineering; Plant Manager, Detroit Hamtramck Assembly; Executive Director of Competitive Operations Engineering; and has held several engineering and staff positions.
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