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Better Late Than Never: Woman Named CEO of GM

Mary BarraWe don’t usually write in praise of the US auto industry, but we’re making an exception this week. The recent appointment of Mary Barra to the CEO position at General Motors is a sign of welcome change. We might go so far as to reassert that oft-quoted quip from 50’s Secretary of Defense and ex-CEO of GM Charles Wilson: “What’s good for General Motors is good for the country.” *

We have often felt that the US car industry would adapt for the better if more women assumed leadership roles. Even in our own bicycle industry, we recognize many women who are leading the way.

And there is another aspect of this appointment that seems especially noteworthy: Ms. Barra is an engineer and a product person, before being a finance person, and this bodes well.

“After a long run of CEOs with financial backgrounds and orientations, the company is once again choosing an engineer for its top role,” Bill Visnic, an analyst at Edmunds.com, said in an e-mail. “It could be interpreted as a signal that GM believes it’s as much a car-making company as a money-making company.”

Read this Bloomberg summary and muse over the implications of this appointment and the history of GM. If you want to entertain yourself, read this article about the ten cars that helped ruin GM, and recall names like Corvair, Hummer, Vega, and the unfortunate EV1 electric car fiasco.

We don’t know Ms. Barra well enough to comment on her personal values and vision, and we cannot expect any one person to turn GM into a company that produces cars that will regain the respect of us designers and be more sensitive to our environment and culture. But her appointment is a bold step in the right direction and makes us believe that change is possible.

For myself, and given that Ms. Barra is an alumni of my alma mater, my pipe dream for 2014 is that I find a way to have a conversation with her about using the extra factory space and resources in Detroit to collaborate on a line of US-made bicycles. Why not?

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