Bloomberg News

GM’s Barra to Attend State of the Union as Michelle Obama Guest

January 28, 2014

General Motors Co. Chief Executive Officer Mary Barra

General Motors Co. Chief Executive Officer Mary Barra said she was honored to accept the invitation to the State of the Union and delighted to represent GM workers. Photographer: Ralph Orlowski/Bloomberg

Mary Barra, who took the reins as General Motors Co. chief executive officer less than two weeks ago, will attend tonight’s State of the Union address as a guest of First Lady Michelle Obama, the White House said.

Barra, the first female CEO of a global automaker, will join the first lady for President Barack Obama’s nationally televised address that’s scheduled to begin at about 9 p.m. in Washington, according to a White House news release.

Her appearance follows the U.S. Treasury’s sale last month of its remaining stake in Detroit-based GM. (GM:US) The exit ended the so-called Government Motors era set off by the government’s $50 billion bailout and reorganization of the company.

U.S. auto sales are running at a pre-recession pace less than five years after federal bailouts. The U.S. lost about $11 billion on its investment in GM, the largest piece of an industry rescue that became a centerpiece of Obama’s first term.

GM and Chrysler Group LLC, after receiving aid under then-President George W. Bush, would ultimately undergo bankruptcy reorganizations after Obama took office. Ford Motor Co., which avoided bankruptcy, had its own painful restructuring.

The bailouts 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.

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.

‘Steel Ceiling’

Barra, 52, who previously served as the company’s chief product officer, was chosen to succeed Dan Akerson as CEO, with the announcement coming after the U.S. exit from GM. She took over on Jan. 15.

Hillary Clinton, who served as secretary of state during Obama’s first term, praised GM yesterday for naming Barra to lead the company. Her promotion sends the signal that the U.S. wants people who are talented and spur innovation, Clinton said.

“I’m excited about GM’s new CEO -- you might guess I would be,” Clinton, a Democrat, 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.”

Barra is in line to receive at least $4.4 million in compensation this year. Her salary was set at $1.6 million and she’s eligible for $2.8 million under GM’s short-term incentive plan, GM said in a filing (GM:US) last week. Barra also is likely to receive additional remuneration as part of new long-term incentives up for approval at this year’s annual meeting.

Corvette Stingray

Earlier this month, Barra met with Vice President Joe Biden at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, showing him a red Corvette Stingray.

Barra said she was honored to accept the invitation to the State of the Union and delighted to represent GM workers.

“America’s resurgent auto industry is a great comeback story and its contribution to our nation’s economy should be a source of bipartisan pride,” she said in a statement released by the company. “We will always be grateful for the action taken by two Administrations, the taxpayer’s support, and the congressional members who stood with us during the industry’s recovery.”

Alicia Boler-Davis, now senior vice president of global quality and customer experience, sat in the first lady’s box in 2012 after earlier giving the president a tour of a GM factory in Michigan.

Other named as guests for tonight’s speech include San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee; Vice Admiral Michelle Howard, the deputy chief of naval operations; and Kentucky’s Democratic Governor, Steve Beshear, the White House said. Attendees also include Boston Marathon bombing victim Jeff Bauman, and Carlos Arredondo, his rescuer in a white cowboy hat.

To contact the reporters on this story: Tim Higgins in Detroit at thiggins21@bloomberg.net; Michael Shepard in Washington at mshepard7@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Steven Komarow at skomarow1@bloomberg.net; Jamie Butters at jbutters@bloomberg.net


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