Hillary Clinton praised General Motors Co. (GM:US) for naming Mary Barra the first female chief executive officer of a global automaker, saying the government made the “right decision” on the auto industry bailout.
“I’m excited about GM’s new CEO -- you might guess I would be,” Clinton, a Democrat and former secretary of state, told an audience of about 4,000 people at the National Automobile Dealers Association convention in New Orleans. “I guess you could say she broke through the steel ceiling, not the glass ceiling.”
Clinton’s visit comes as U.S. auto sales are running at a pre-recession pace less than five years after federal bailouts. GM and Chrysler, after receiving aid under then-President George W. Bush, would ultimately undergo a bankruptcy reorganization after Barack Obama took office. Ford Motor Co. (F:US), which avoided bankruptcy, had its own painful restructuring.
“They were the right decisions, that doesn’t mean they were not without cost,” Clinton said.
Clinton, who left office last year and has drawn interest from Democratic Party leaders as a potential presidential candidate, reiterated today that she hasn’t decided what she’ll do in 2016.
“I’ll think about it in the future sometime,” said Clinton, a former first lady and U.S. senator from New York.
Her speech to auto dealers follows the U.S. Treasury’s sale last month of its remaining stake in GM. The exit ended the so-called “Government Motors” era that followed the U.S. government’s $50 billion bailout and reorganization of the company.
The U.S. lost about $11 billion on its investment in GM, which was the largest piece of an industry bailout that became a centerpiece of Obama’s first term.
Buoyed by lower debt and reduced labor costs, GM and Chrysler are emblematic of a revitalized U.S. auto industry that last year saw its best sales year since 2007. Chrysler and Ford both gained U.S. market share last year and GM swept the North American Car and Truck of the Year awards this month.
The bailout preserved 2.6 million jobs in 2009 at automakers and companies that depend on the industry, according to the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
The center calculates that a collapse would have eliminated $284 billion in personal income in 2009 and 2010 and cost the federal government $105 billion in unemployment benefits, as well as reduced Social Security contributions.
Following the announcement last month that the U.S. government was out of GM, Dan Akerson announced his retirement and named Barra, who was the automaker’s chief product officer, as his successor.
Barra’s promotion sends the signal that the U.S. wants people who are talented and spur innovation, Clinton said.
“We’re seeing, I think, these decisions made regardless of gender,” she said. “It sends a really good signal to little girls and little boys across our country that we really don’t have a person to waste.”
As she reflected on her time as secretary of state, Clinton called the September 2012 attack on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four U.S. citizens, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, her biggest regret.
“It was a great personal loss to me,” she said.
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