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Auto Industry

General Motors announces Mary Barra as first female CEO

General Motors has announced that its product development chief, Mary Barra will be the company's next CEO and the first woman to lead a major automaker. Barra will replace Dan Akerson who will step down next month.

General Motors announced on Tuesday that its executive vice president for global product development, purchasing and supply chain, and 33-year company veteran, Mary Barra will replace Chief Executive Officer Dan Akerson next month.

The move will make Barra, 51, the first woman in the world to head a major automaker. In 2013, women accounted for 4 percent of CEOs in Fortune 500 companies, according to advocacy group Catalyst.org.

Barra's ascension also marks the reemergence of an engineer as the next leader at GM, a position that has long been dominated by financial executives.

GM said Akerson, 65, will leave on January 15, pushing his planned departure ahead by at least six months after learning two months ago that his wife had an advanced stage of cancer.

Akerson lauded Barra's breadth and depth of experience and her managerial and interpersonal skills and said she was chosen for her talent, not gender.

"This is an executive who has a vision of where she wants to take the organization," he said on a conference call. "Mary is an adaptive personality and one who reacts to change well."

He also said it was the board's decision to split the chairman and CEO jobs with Theodore Solso, 66, succeeding him as chairman.

As CEO, Akerson has helped GM move to eliminate some of its bureaucracy and inefficiencies and recovered its investment grade credit rating.

He took over the position just before GM re-entered public markets in November 2010, following a $49.5 billion government bailout and bankruptcy reorganization that saw CEO Rick Wagoner ousted.

The news comes a day after the US Treasury announced it had sold the last of its GM shares, which means the largest US automaker has exited the government-bailout era with sales at their best level in six years.

hc/lw (Reuters, AFP, AP)