GM's new CFO, Dhivya Suryadevara.

  • Dhivya Suryadevara will become GM's new CFO, joining CEO Mary Barra.
  • No other major car maker has two women in such top executive roles.
  • GM has completely reversed the largely male-centric culture that defined the company before its 2009 bankruptcy.

Let's be clear: there are many, many women working and thriving in the global car industry. Quite a few are also on leadership positions, with titanic responsibilities. 

But as a whole, the business has long been thought of as a bastion of "car guys". That's why Wednesday's news that General Motors' CFO, Chuck Stevens, would retire and be succeeded by 39-year-old Dhivya Suryadevara was astounding. 

GM now has two women running the show, with Suryadevara as CFO and Mary Barra as CEO.

A pair of men round out the c-suite team: Mark Reuss as Vice President and product guru; and Dan Ammann as President and in-house futurist, pursuing new business opportunities such as the Cruise self-driving car programme.

Wall Street will get its first chance to hear from Barra and Suryadevara after September 1, when Stevens officially relinquishes his CFO duties; he got the job in 2014 at about the same time that Barra became the first woman to become CEO of a major car maker. He'll ride off into the sunset after 40 years with the General.

GM's executive leadership is an impressive reversal from the pre-bankruptcy company — and quite different from almost every other car maker currently in business. Crosstown rival Ford is the closest to GM in terms of gender balance at the top, with Marcy Klevorn overseeing the company's mobility efforts.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is all-male at the top, as is the VW Group, Daimler (Mercedes-Benz's parent), and Toyota. There are plenty of women with critical jobs at car companies, but the absolute pinnacle has been difficult to conquer (Marina von Neumann Whitman, the daughter of legendary mathematician John von Neumann, was for a time a GM president).

An impressive move to change GM's culture

GM CEO Mary Barra.

That's why GM's move is so impressive. Barra is arguably the best CEO the company has ever had, steering the ship post-Chapter 11, dealing with a massive ignition-switch recall as soon as she sat down in the big chair, and making tough business calls, such as selling money-losing Opel, GM's European division.

She's also pushed hard to keep GM relevant in a rapidly changing transportation landscape, through the Cruise acquisition and with the launch of the all-electric, long-range Chevy Bolt.

Suryadevara was GM's vice president of Corporate Finance, a responsibility she assumed in 2017. The Harvard MBA has provided key support to Barra in GM's investment and M&A undertakings.

"Dhivya’s experience and leadership in several key roles throughout our financial operations positions her well to build on the strong business results we’ve delivered over the last several years," said Barra in a statement.

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