GM becomes first major auto company in history to have a female CEO and a female CFO
Let’s be clear: there are many, many women working and thriving in the global auto 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.
Firstly, good for the women concerned; I’m sure they’ll do a wonderful job. But General Motors is a lumbering behemoth which was saved from bankrupcy only by government intervention involving Barack Obama tearing up the rulebook on debtor hierarchies to benefit his union chums. GM hardly represents the organisation of the future, and very much looks like a dinosaur which should have been put out of its misery a long time ago. That it should now be run by two women to much celebration supports the theory that high-flying businesswomen are more likely to take over long-established organisations than start and grow their own, and that the companies they run are well into the tail in terms of industry life cycles. In other words, it would be a lot more newsworthy were two women selected to run a biotech company than a car manufacturer (it was an appreciation of this fact which undoubtedly contributed to the excitement around the now-disgraced Elizabeth Holmes). Or, to put it another way, where is the smart money going these days and who is in charge of it?
This ties in nicely with my dissertation research, which looks at the percentages of women at the senior level in fast growing companies and compares them with those in the largest companies. I’m still collecting the data but the early signs are that smaller, fast-growing companies have a lower percentage of women in top positions than the largest companies. In other words, companies put women in charge only once they are established and have reached a certain size. This uplifting story about GM now being run by two women appears to support this theory. See also this post.