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Fortune Magazine has named General Motors Co. CEO Mary Barra the “Crisis Manager of the Year.”

Barra took the reins of the Detroit automaker in January with celebrity-like media coverage, ranging from lifestyle magazines to auto tabloids. But the headlines quickly changed from Barra being named the first woman to lead a major automaker — they now were about recalls and defective ignition switches.

GM started recalling 2.59 million older-model cars for defective ignition switches just weeks after Barra started as CEO. The faulty parts have now been linked to at least 42 deaths, and Barra has been at the forefront of the crisis with visits to Capitol Hill about transforming the company’s culture and processes.

“Over the past year Barra has presided over perhaps the most challenging time in the automaker’s 106-year history, rivaled only by the bankruptcy the company went through just a few years earlier,” Fortune’s Ben Geier wrote about why Barra is Crisis Manager of the Year. “Along the way, she has appeared in front of Congress multiple times, and faced the wrath of the American public.”

As a result of the overhaul, executives and engineers were fired and new processes have led GM to recall more than 30 million vehicles worldwide.

Barra led the creation of a fund to compensate those hurt or killed in the now-recalled Chevrolet Cobalts, Saturn Ions and other cars with faulty ignition switches that can inadvertently turn the engine off and disable power steering and air bags. The automaker has said it expects to spend $400 million on claims, but said it could rise as high as $600 million.

Barra was announced as Dan Akerson’s successor last December. She started as CEO on Jan. 15. Prior to leading the company, she was executive vice president of global product development, purchasing and supply chain, and held several other executive, engineering and staff positions.

Barra started her career at GM in 1980 as a General Motors Institute (now known as Kettering University) co-op student at the Pontiac Motor Division.

mwayland@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2504

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