GM names Mary Barra as new CEO, replacing Akerson

Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images

A day after exiting the embrace of U.S. government ownership, General Motors on Tuesday named Mary Barra as its new chief executive, succeeding its current chairman and CEO, Dan Akerson.

Akerson will leave the company on Jan 15, in order to spend time with his wife, who has advanced stage cancer, according to GM. Given his personal considerations, GM’s board accelerated the succession plan, which surprised market watchers with the timing, if not the result.

Barra, who currently serves as executive vice president of global product development, will be the auto maker’s first female CEO. The executive shuffle comes immediately after the Treasury announced that the U.S. government sold its final stake in the automaker, which had to be rescued at the height of the global financial crisis.

At the time, Akerson had joined the board of the largest U.S. automaker, and ascended to the top job in 2010. Barra is a 33-year veteran of GM, and has held roles in engineering and assembly. Given her pedigree with the automaker, her ascension was widely anticipated by GM watchers.

Barra takes the helm of GM at a precarious time in its history. Although retail sales of its autos surged by 19 percent last month, the auto giant is still struggling to remake itself in the shadow of a bailout that cost taxpayers nearly $10 billion. GM has lost money on unprofitable product lines, and has yet to come to grips with soaring pension and health care costs that have bedeviled the company for years and prompted its rescue.

As of Monday’s close, GM’s stock has risen nearly 24 percent since its second initial public offering (IPO) in November 2010, when it priced at $33 per share. The company’s market capitalization is $56.8 billion.

–By CNBC’s Javier E. David; Phil Lebeau contributed to this report.

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