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GM's New CEO Mary Barra Is the First Woman to Lead a Major Car Company

Mary Barra has worked for General Motors for 33 years, most recently as executive vice president of global product development. She seems like a natural choice for replacement for departing CEO Daniel Akerson, who is stepping down in January. Why Barra's is appointment such big news? Because she will be the first female CEO to head a car company the size of GM.

Mary Barra 

(Photo Credit: GM.com)

"I will leave with great satisfaction in what we have accomplished, great optimism over what is ahead and great pride that we are restoring General Motors as America's standard bearer in the global auto industry," Akerson said in a message to employees, according to USA Today.

The news comes just one day after the Treasury Department sold the last of its G.M. shares, bringing an end to the "Government Motors" era that began with the bailout of 2008. Auto News reports recouped $39 billion of its original $49.5 billion, for a total loss of $10.5 billion.

Some economists feel it was worth the cost. Bloomberg Businessweek editor Bryant Urstadt at points out that the rescue saved 1.14 million jobs in 2009 alone, according to the Center for Automotive Research, and a failed GM would have cost $96.5 billion in lost income.

"The events bring to a close a chapter in American public life that will be studied for years to come, asking -- and, for many, answering -- questions about the responsibilities of government, the abilities of government, the capabilities of American management, the role of unions, and the future of what seems in many ways a lost city," writes Urstadt. "And it's going to be interesting to follow Barra, the first woman to run an automobile company, as GM attempts to keep on track."

Barra will be a trailblazer, whether she wants to be or not: only 4 percent of Fortune-500 CEOs are female.

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