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CEO, NORTH AMERICA: Mary Barra, CEO, General Motors
The story of Mary Barra’s baptism by fire is the stuff of auto industry lore by now — the rookie CEO generally received high marks last year for striking the right tone as the public face of General Motors’ recall crisis.

But a question hung over the GM lifer heading into 2015: Could she pivot from crisis management to growth mode, while also convincing investors that GM had a long-range plan for success in a fast-changing industry?

So far, the scoreboard says Barra & Co. is winning.

Her team made good on several promises to Wall Street, including a 10 percent operating profit margin in North America and record $3.1 billion third-quarter operating profit. U.S. retail sales through October rose 8 percent — tops among the seven largest automakers — as GM emphasized brand health over rental sales. Despite waning demand in China, GM sustained profitability through cost cuts and emphasizing higher-margin SUVs.

And there was a dash of crisis management, too. Barra, 53, swiftly rebuffed Sergio Marchionne’s advances for a merger with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, tacitly signaling that GM is too busy planning its future — connectivity, electrified vehicles, autonomous driving — to pair up with its smaller rival.