Believe It or Not, a Former HR Lady Makes It Big at General Motors

I don’t know how many of you saw the press release this week, but General Motors announced that their new CEO would be former GM HR Lady Mary Barra.

Let’s not forget that she will also be the first women to run a major automotive company in history! From the CNN/Money article:

Since August, Barra has served as executive vice president of global product development and global purchasing and supply chain, according to her company bio.

For more than two years before that, she was an executive VP focusing on international design, engineering, program management and quality. Earlier, she was vice president of global human resources. Barra started at GM when she was 18 as part of a cooperative education program.

She was paid $4.9 million in total compensation last year, according to corporate documents. That includes a salary of $750,000.”

Why it makes sense to put a woman in charge

Bam! It pays to be in HR!

Women represent a minority presence in the auto industry, comprising 21 percent of the total workforce. According to federal data, 39,000 of the industry’s 185,200 employees were women. And women hold about 3.3 million of 12 million jobs in the broader manufacturing sector, or about 27 percent.

Jared Rowe, president of auto product researcher Kelley Blue Book, said that it’s smart for an automaker to put a woman in charge with a background in product development, considering that “the bulk of the buying decisions are actually made by women, when it comes to purchasing vehicles.”

He also said that Barra’s long history with GM is vital to the company’s leadership.”

It’s not your parents GM anymore

I would say GM is smart indeed to hire a woman to run the company, but in reality, Wall Street will ultimately be the judge on her performance. That’s the way it goes with large publicly traded companies.

However I do feel, growing up in Michigan, currently working and living in Michigan, and my company being a supplier to GM, that this is not your parent’s and grandparent’s GM! The auto industry is an “old boys” network for sure, and GM making the courageous decision to hire a female as CEO definitely speaks to a broader change in our society.

When people think of Michigan, they think of a broken Detroit and of a broken auto industry. For those of us who live in Michigan, we are seeing something very different.

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The auto industry is strong, and so many companies are hiring in all sectors. The recession hit us hard. It taught us a ton.

GM’s failure was a huge part of that. If you don’t think GM learned anything from it, this hiring should at least be symbolic to show the world it is a different company — one that, while not perfect, is striving to be better.

This originally appeared on the blog  The Tim Sackett Project.

Tim Sackett, MS, SPHR is executive vice president of HRU Technical Resources, a contingent staffing firm in Lansing, MI. Tim has 20 years of HR and talent background split evenly between corporate HR gigs among the Fortune 500 and the HR vendor community ? so he gets it from both sides of the desk. A frequent contributor to the talent blog Fistful of Talent, Tim also speaks at many HR conferences and events. Contact him here.