A 30-year GM veteran, Barra is the first woman to run a major automaker. She is also only the second GM CEO in the past half-century to come from the product side of the business.
Dan Akerson, the outgoing CEO, had previously run Nextel and XO Communications. He was named to the automaker’s board of directors to represent the U.S. Treasury during the 2009 bailout.
In a group interview at the auto show, we asked Mark Reuss, who has taken over Barra’s old role as the global chief of product development, how things will change now that GM is being run by a product person.
“I think she knows a lot about the product, as I do,” he said. “We experienced the product mistakes, we experienced the car development mistakes from a financial standpoint that we made in the past.
“And so that depth of understanding of those mistakes and what we’ve done, the success of turning that to a different place, is pretty profound on how you run the business. So I think those things will serve her really well in the decisions that we make in different regions and different portfolios and different approaches to product development, and the success of the company. I know it will,” Reuss said.
Because Barra (along with Reuss, who was also a contender for the CEO job) lived through the dark days of bankruptcy and the success of the past few years, she deeply understands what works and what doesn’t.
The key metric for success, in Reuss’s view, is loyalty rates — the customers who buy one GM car, and come back for another. “That’s the ultimate view for doing it right,” and “it’s worth a lot of money” — about $US700 million for one percentage point.
Reuss is happy with where GM stands on design and value, he said. But it takes a long time to build that crucial loyalty.
“Now we gotta do that for a while, we’ve gotta do that for a long while, to erase what people thought of this company and their products for decades … I think we have to do that over and over and over again,” he said.
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