DETROIT – Mary Barra, the first woman to lead a major global automaker, has a press corps following like no other executive.
Barra, who officially becomes General Motors’ CEO on Wednesday, was pursued by about 100 reporters and photographers after GM swept car and truck of the year awards at the Detroit auto show Monday.
Two large bodyguards and public relations handlers fended off the throng that chased her to the Cadillac exhibit, where she did a television interview. During the pursuit, one cameraman tripped over a couch and another ran into a post.
A security guard said he hadn’t seen as large of a gaggle since former CEO Rick Wagoner was pursued as GM was headed toward bankruptcy in 2009.
“You guys have rocketed her to superstar status overnight,” incoming GM North America president Alan Batey told reporters at the show.
Batey says the notoriety for Barra is helping to get GM’s brands recognized.
Reporters who chase Barra aren’t getting much of anything out of her. Barra’s answers are carefully scripted. That’s a stark contrast with the man she replaces. Dan Akerson was known for blunt, off-the-cuff comments about his company and his competitors. Barra may be guarded in her answers because the CEO job isn’t officially hers yet.
Asked what change she planned to make, Barra said she wants to continue the momentum started by Akerson. In his three years as CEO, he streamlined management and sped up product development, among other changes.
She considers herself a collaborative leader and hopes her appointment will inspire young women – and men – to study science, math and engineering.
Barra, 52, is an electrical engineer who rose through GM ranks in 33 years with the company.