First Woman CEO!

Pop the champagne corks! There is a momentous news flash today. General Motors has named Mary Barra, 51, its next chief executive officer.

The announcement came from chairman and CEO Dan Akerson, and Barra will take the title of CEO when Akerson steps down at the first of the year.

If anyone wants to know how far General Motors has come since the Troubles? Mary Barra becomes the first female CEO of a car company in history.

Mary Barra has been quickly gaining gravitas. She came out of HR to be named head of global product development, and then earlier this year added global head of product purchasing. I know her, and I’ve always liked her. Her persona is best older sister. Her personality is calm in the eye of a storm. She is passionate about General Motors and passionate about the people who work there, and she has teenagers. In fact, she recently blew out the stodgy GM dress code and was quoted in Businessweek saying, “So you’re telling me I can have you responsible for tens of millions of dollars, but I can’t trust you to dress appropriately?”

The only other candidate for this job in our eyes was Mark Reuss, who is president of General Motors North America. He is a consummate product guy, which is really what this business is about: great product. But it makes sense to keep your product guy in a position where he won’t be burdened by the compromises that frequently have to be made in big business. As enthusiasts, we were pulling for him, but the argument against putting your product guy at the top was in fact, his own father, a great product guy, who took a fall as a scapegoat for the problems of General Motors. When Lloyd Reuss lost his position on the board, General Motors and all its customers lost a great product guy.

In my estimation, Mary Barra only has to do a couple of things. The cars can’t break; she has to manage production so the cars aren’t overproduced; and she has to make GM manage incentives so they don’t take over and ruin the gains that have been made in the past few years.

More important is that she has to count on Mark Reuss, who has highly refined product sensibilities, and Ed Wellburn, who has done a masterful job bringing General Motors design out of the darkness.

It’s an incredible team. And that fact that it is going to be run by a woman is one of the most amazing feelings I have had in a really, really long time.

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