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Mary Barra will become the 1st woman to head a major automaker (Photo: GM)

General Motors named Mary Barra to become the carmaker's next CEO on January 15, 2014. Barra, 51, will succeed Dan Akerson, who is retiring earlier than planned to deal with a family illness.

Barra, who is in charge of GM's global product development, purchasing and supply chain, will become the first woman to run a major automaker. She takes over just after the US government sold its last remaining shares in the company, fully restoring GM to private ownership.

Barra has been with GM for 33 years and rose through a series of manufacturing, engineering and senior staff positions."With an amazing portfolio of cars and trucks and the strongest financial performance in our recent history, this is an exciting time at today’s GM,” Barra said in a press release.

Dan Ammann, currently' GM's chief financial officer, will become company president and assume responsibility for worldwide regional operations. Ammann, 41, will also head the global Chevrolet and Cadillac brand operations.

In other senior management changes, Mark Reuss, 50, executive vice president and president, North America, will replace Barra as head of global purchasing operations. Alan Batey, currently senior vice president, global Chevrolet and US sales and marketing, will take over Reuss' current North American responsibilities.

Steve Girsky, vice chairman, corporate strategy, business development and global product planning, will become a senior advisor to GM until he leaves the company in April. He will remain on GM's board of directors.

Akerson was appointed GM CEO in 2010. In a statement, he said his goals were "to put the customer at the center of every decision we make, to position GM for long term success and to make GM a company that America can be proud of again." And he added: "We are well down that path, and I’m certain that our new team will keep us moving in that direction.”