GM becomes first major auto company in history to have a female CEO and a female CFO

GM's new CFO, Dhivya Suryadevara.

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GM’s new CFO, Dhivya Suryadevara.
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GM

  • Dhivya Suryadevara will become GM’s new CFO, joining CEO Mary Barra.
  • No other major automaker has two women in such top executive roles.
  • GM has 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 auto industry. Quite a few are also in 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 Dhivya Suryadevara, 39, 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 program.

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 Barra became the first woman to be the CEO of a major automaker. 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 automaker 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 pinnacle has been difficult to conquer. (Marina von Neumann Whitman, the daughter of the legendary mathematician John von Neumann, was for a time a GM president.)

An impressive move to change GM’s culture

GM CEO Mary Barra.

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GM CEO Mary Barra.
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Bill Pugliano / Stringer

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 Opel, GM’s money-losing European division.

She has 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 last year. The Harvard MBA has provided key support to Barra in GM’s investment and mergers-and-acquisitions 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,” Barra said in a statement.