11 Surprising Facts About GM's First Female CEO

VIDEO: Barra is the first women ever to run one of Detroit's big three car corporations.

By any standard Mary Barra, named today by General Motors to be its next CEO, is an exception. After all, she's the first woman to head a major U.S. car company.

Barra, 51, will replace retiring CEO Dan Akerson. GM says Akerson will step down ahead of schedule Jan. 15 to help care for his ailing wife, who has cancer.

Government sells remaining stake in GM

GM in a statement says Barra has 33 years of experience with the company, having served in manufacturing, engineering and senior staff positions. She's now executive vice president for global product development, purchasing and supply chain.

Here's 11 surprising facts about her:

She's tough

She's pleasant, un-swaggering—but tough. Former GM Vice Chairman Robert Lutz described her as the classic "iron fist in the velvet glove." He tells ABC News, "She always looks nice."

Comes from GM family

She's the daughter of an hourly worker, Lutz notes. Her father worked 39 years as a GM diemaker. She's been around cars, says a GM spokesman, her whole life, having started with the company at age 18 as an intern.

She's an engineer

She's a career engineer by training, having earned a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering from Kettering University.

She's a Mom

She's the mother of two Millennials—a son and daughter.

She's a 'car guy'

She's a "car guy." Says Lutz approvingly, "She's no bean-counter. Her focus is on excellence in cars and trucks."

She's outspoken

Despite having a stint as a public relations executive on her GM resume, she's refreshingly plainspoken. She's famous for saying that what GM needs to do is "to stop making crappy cars."

She's done HR too

She's run a manufacturing plant, led internal communications, led human resources, led product development. Another exec who worked with her told ABC News: "I don't think it's often that you find a CEO who has run internal communications and HR."

A war game winner

She keeps a bobblehead of Albert Einstein in her office. Asked why by Bloomberg News, she explained it had been given by outgoing CEO Akerson for having successfully attacked GM in war-game competition.

She drives a...

She drives a black, brand new Cadillac CTS.

Camaro her first love

Both she and her husband are Camaro buffs, according to GM. "Between the two of them, they've probably owned every generation of Camaro," a spokesperson says. "She's loved them since she began to drive, since she first got her license." Right out of college, she wanted one. "But she made a more sensible decision and got a Chevette."

What keeps her busy

She devotes her leisure time to her family, and to non-profits and charities. She serves on the board of the General Dynamics and Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute.

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