By on March 1, 2013

Author’s note: When the government rescued General Motors from certain disaster, it was a chance at a fresh start. A chance to not just slow GM’s half-century of market share loss, but truly return America’s largest automaker to its place of pride. With debts erased, unions tamed and coffers restocked by the government, all things should have been possible. And yet, first under Ed Whitacre and now Dan Akerson, General Motors has consistently failed to live up to its true potential. Only new leadership can give the people of General Motors, to say nothing of the American people, an automaker they can be truly proud of.

Like every individual, every organization wants to present its best face to the world; it’s why the PR business exists, and why your 14-year-old daughter spends hours manicuring her Facebook presence. But when the desire to be seen in a positive light becomes too strong, individuals and organizations often end up hurting themselves as much as helping. Put in simple terms: if you misrepresent who and what you are too many times, you lose credibility. This seems to be what is happening to GM’s CEO, Dan Akerson.

From the very first instance of his involvement with General Motors, the story of Dan Akerson shot through with contradictions, conflicting stories and confusion. In interviews, Akerson has cast his coming to GM as his answering a “call to service,” comparing it to the motivations taught at the US Naval Academy and saying he never thought he would lead the automaker. But rather than being “called” by the government from among the nation’s CEOs, Akerson himself lobbied to be put on GM’s board. Naval Academy connections, rather than Naval Academy values, explain why Dan Akerson was “asked” to serve on GM’s board.

From this initial misrepresentation, a pattern quickly emerges. Upon becoming CEO, Akerson maintained that it was all a big surprise, and has unequivocally stated for the record that “I didn’t seek this job. The board asked me to do it.” Yet, as with his appointment to GM’s board, Akerson takes far too little credit. According to his predecessor as GM’s CEO, Ed Whitacre, Akerson volunteered for the job after earning a reputation for being one of the board’s most “consistent critics.” Whitacre writes in his book, “Dan wanted to be chairman and CEO from day one.”

Of course, the most ambitious people often take the greatest pains to conceal their ambitions, and if Akerson were simply wrapping his desire to run GM in the trappings of national service, the sin could be overlooked. Unfortunately, his entire tenure has been characterized by consistently problematic relationship with the truth.


One of the most egregious examples of this involves GM’s decision not to sell Opel. Early reports indicate that Akerson was one of two board members in favor of selling Opel, and unnamed sources even explained his logic to Reuters thus: “Europe was a market of national champion automakers — VW in Germany, Fiat in Italy and Renault in France — and pan-European luxury brands like BMW and Daimler AG’s Mercedes, a person familiar with Akerson’s thinking said. Opel is neither and Akerson believed it would be a long, uphill battle to fix it.” Then, as Europe’s economic downturn deepened and Opel emerged not only as GM’s main source of losses but as a drag on its stock price, Akerson apparently changed his story. Suddenly the NY Times reported the exact opposite story: that Akerson was one of two board members who voted to keep Opel.

The fact that Akerson has allowed these two mutually-exclusive stories to linger without clarification isn’t just a sign of his duplicity, it indicates the extent to which he lacks a strategy for General Motors. But that argument deserves its own essay, and will be explored in the second part of this series.

Thus far, the pattern of Akerson’s deception paints a clear picture of a man driven to place himself atop GM for reasons of personal gratification rather than because he had the skills or strategy to turn the automaker around. This impression is confirmed by his latest truthfulness challenge, which involves his alleged request for a pay raise. When CNBC obtained documents showing GM had requested a 20% pay raise for Akerson, GM’s official communications team hit back, denying the story and asking media outlets to “correct the record.” But, despite GM’s claims that it had not officially requested a raise for Akerson, an earlier report by the Special Inspector General for TARP revealed that GM had in fact requested pay restriction exemptions for Akerson and other executives, but had been rejected. The SIGTARP’s finding was that many of GM’s top-level executives’ compensation, including Akerson’s, were already “excessive” even before GM requested exemption from restrictions.

Men engaged in “national service” don’t typically make millions of dollars each year or request 20% raises, and in order to preserve his image as a selfless leader, Akerson used GM’s resources to imply that government watchdogs lied about his un-servant-like behavior. As a result, Akerson didn’t just hurt his own credibility, he hurt GM’s as well. But then, Akerson’s willingness to sacrifice the image of the company he is supposed to be reviving in order to preserve his personal legacy has already been established.

When Akerson suddenly and unexpectedly fired his Global Chief Marketing Officer, Joel Ewanick, he argued that Ewanick had agreed to a Manchester United worth hundreds of millions of dollars without his approval (even though Ewanick had been hired with the promise of “autonomy”). Akerson went on to sign the deal anyway, and what followed was an embarrassing series of leaks and counter-leaks that undermined confidence in GM’s already rapidly-rotating executive ranks. When the dust settled the picture was fairly clear: Akerson simply didn’t like Ewanick. But in order to hide his true motivations he put GM’s C-Suite through an unnecessary and morale-sapping public ordeal.

From his first involvement with General Motors, Dan Akerson has sought to wrap a personal ego project in the banner of national service. And as his tenure has dragged on, the disconnect between his stated intentions and his actions have created a credibility problem not just for him but for the entire company. Indeed, Akerson has been consistently willing to weaken GM in order to preserve his own legend. And, as every student of corporate culture knows, the longer this dynamic goes on unchecked, the deeper it will be embedded in GM’s culture.

Of course, if this were an isolated issue, the talented people of General Motors might be able to overcome the self-destructive behavior of its selfish and deceptive chief executive. But Akerson’s self-serving duplicity is intimately tied to his utter lack of a vision or strategy for General Motors, a topic that will be addressed in Part Two of The Case Against Dan Akerson.

Forthcoming: Part 2: Lack Of Strategy, Part 3: Loss Of Confidence.

Editor’s note: Renaissance_Man is a nationally and internationally known industry analyst who prefers to remain anonymous

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73 Comments on “The Case Against Akerson, Part 1 of 3: Breach Of Trust...”


  • avatar
    LALoser

    For me it is always unfortunate to read an in-depth, detailed story by an expert…only for it to be “by anonymous”.

    • 0 avatar

      The best information usually comes on deep background …

    • 0 avatar
      Summicron

      “only for it to be ‘by anonymous’.”

      Yes, kind of like reading Seymour Hersh.

      • 0 avatar
        TheOtherLew

        To Summicron:

        No, it is not kind of like reading Seymour Hersh.

        When you read an article by Seymour Hersh, Seymour Hersh is accountable for the article.

        When a cowardly editorial is published under a pseudonym, no one is accountable.

        • 0 avatar
          Summicron

          Huh?
          Hersh has built a career upon ascribing inventive BS to anonymous sources (he called it being “interpretive”). He’s admitted as much. I guess his in-your-face arrogance is “accountable”?

          Whatever, his shit still sells to the faithful.

          • 0 avatar
            wmba

            I can’t think of a journalist in the automotive field of high enough eminence and status that the general assembled multitude would stand there slack-jawed in amazement if they knew his name and that his writings really, really mattered.

            Anonymous thinks more of himself than can be justified. DeLorenzo attacks Akerson in no uncertain terms on AutoExtremist this week and has done so multiple times before. He doesn’t hide.

            Your opinion may differ.

          • 0 avatar
            Lampredi

            “DeLorenzo attacks Akerson in no uncertain terms on AutoExtremist this week and has done so multiple times before. He doesn’t hide.”

            Meh… DeLorenzo used to attack VW chairman Ferdinand Piëch quite frequently a few years ago as well – nowadays, however, that no longer happens, on the contrary he never misses an opportunity to shower Piëch’s Audi brand with praise.

            Makes you wonder what happened, really…

          • 0 avatar

            Sometimes even anonimity isn’t enough

            http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/05/geo-storm-ev-mule-the-chevrolet-volts-baby-daddy/

            The gentleman I mentioned in that story didn’t want to go on record even with full anonymity. His information wasn’t particularly sensitive, but the auto industry is a small world. You never know what could come back to bite you in the ass, especially if you are still employed.

          • 0 avatar
            cargogh

            @Lampredi. Then there’s hope for Sergio and Chrysler. That could give his keyboard’s malice symbol a break.

    • 0 avatar
      philadlj

      Agreed…and I haven’t even read it yet.

      Readers’s note: I’d feel a lot better reading this if the author had at least a convincing nom de plume, e.g., “Brent Lockhart”, or “Susan Docherty.” Especially if the word “trust” is in the title, at least project the _illusion_ you trust us with a name, any name, and not a handle.

      - Dane Larsen-Jenkins, AKA philadlj

  • avatar
    sunridge place

    Don’t really see any new ground here so far but I’m not giving up. So far, this looks like a recap of TTAC stories so far. Bertel has a nom de plume now?

    Let me guess:

    Part 2: Europe/Malibu Launch/Upper Level Mgmt turnover/Advertising-Marketing issues

    Part 3: He’s mean to people and doesn’t support the ‘true believers’/He has a mean PR person/He said bad things about GM Powertrain/He told the truth about the XTS being ‘good, not great’/He picked a non-auto guy to lead Cadillac/

    What am I missing?

    • 0 avatar
      Truckducken

      Substance.

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      That pretty much sums up BS’s modus operendi in putting GM in a negative spotlight and Toyota in positive one. How odten does Bertel say anything positive about GM? Negative about Toyota?

      • 0 avatar
        Chocolatedeath

        Hey you Saab lover leave BS alone..you know bloggers are sensitive.

      • 0 avatar

        I have only known Bertel to give honest assessments and balanced points of view.

        • 0 avatar
          celebrity208

          I actually thought this was your article (still kinda do) until you started commenting as much as you have already. You have a brother in arms it appears.

      • 0 avatar
        thelaine

        How often has GM not sucked in the last 30 years normsv650? How much butt has Toyota kicked in the last 30 years? It is just reality. Many of us have been praying since forever that GM would get their sht together but it has just been one clusterfk after another. Their first bankruptcy was just a few years ago, if I recall correctly. They responded by building the Volt and hiring Richard Nixon.

      • 0 avatar
        celebrity208

        “and Toyota in positive one” ? I do think you’re wrong but it’s a gut feeling as opposed to an vivid memory and analysis of BS’s writing. Do you have some TTAC links to point me to where BS was over glorifying TMC?

      • 0 avatar
        jkross22

        Oh for crying out loud, GM has been a basket case for the last 15 years. Toyota has outrunned and outsmarted them for some time.

        Unfortunate that you decided to blame the messenger for what is GM’s fault.

  • avatar
    Athos Nobile

    The style is neither RF, BS, AE or BM. I’d venture to throw the term “deep throat”.

    Independently of who wrote it, I look forward for reading parts 2 and 3.

    • 0 avatar
      sunridge place

      Joel Ewanick?? He’s 50ish…could have a daughter around 14…a bit bitter perhaps…has an inside view.

      He throws us off by talking about himself. He has his own company so I guess he can call himself an ‘analyst’

  • avatar
    Summicron

    Professional writer, refreshing.

  • avatar
    mikey

    Whats this? A “Death Watch” series…rebadged? I doubt it.

    Robert Farago was never afraid to sign his name.

  • avatar
    MrWhopee

    I think he’ll do well as a politicians in North Korea, where self-aggrandizing skill seem to be the most important skill… With his skill, he’ll be a deity in no time, maybe even deposing Kim as ‘dear leader’.

    • 0 avatar

      we in the West fail to grasp the reasons for the passion of the North Korean people toward their leaders. our displeasure with Congress certainly isn’t a shining example of faith. who is more justified in supporting their respective power structure?

      • 0 avatar
        chaparral

        I’m 27 and have not gone hungry for want of food in over twenty years. I have not had to bear arms against my fellow citizen. I have never received a semi-anonymous note that “we are watching”. I have not had to read clearly false reports of our military superiority while knowing that the government actually believes it and will send me to the battlefield with orders to never retreat and to shoot my comrades before they are taken prisoner.

  • avatar
    Brian E

    This article is long on allegations of character defect but short on facts. Contradictory media reports of internal GM decision making processes don’t necessarily indicate anything other than sloppy and inaccurate reporting, a phenomenon which even the ol’ Grey Lady is not immune from. Are you sure your mystery analyst isn’t just a GM employee with an axe to grind?

  • avatar
    mike978

    I disagree. I think it is a well written article and states some facts such as he was for selling Opel before he was against selling Opel. Which was it? Does he have a strategy? Did he or did he not ask for a pay rise? etc etc.What is contradictory is Akerson himself and he is damaging GM. GM did and does have the chance for a “fresh” start and has some good product out there. They just need consistency (not switching strategy every 5 minutes), discipline and integrity.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    Interesting. Someone hiding behind anonymity is accusing Ackerson of concealing his motives.

  • avatar
    rmwill

    The writer is probably a GM employee afraid of retribution. Notice the name.

  • avatar
    Rday

    I dunno. Everything makes sense in a GM kind of way. What else would you expect? Remember this is GM. This guy could easily be a high government exec or even run for Congress. How is he any different from any of the rest of these guys?

  • avatar
    NN

    I have no problem with a concealed identity, assuming this is a GM employee. The longer he stays anonymous the longer the gravy train of inside information flows without losing his job, cease and desist orders, personal threats, etc. An effective way to sow the seeds of a coup, and many will agree a coup is needed here.

    • 0 avatar
      Frillo

      I am sure it’s an insider. One of my relatives works in Detroit
      and he tells me there is a revolution brewing in the ranks
      and they demand Akerson’s head, they just don’t
      dare say it aloud for fear of losing thiers.
      Akerson doesn’t know shit about cars, he received a battle filed
      promotion to CEO and now he’s sending the troops to their certain death.
      That shyte about the salaries really got them riled up. Akerson hired some
      morketing flunky from VW, for cryin’ out loud. Hiunday first, now VW,
      whot do friggen foreigners know about selling American cars?

      What does a VW guy know about selling pickups??????

      That Akersumbtch got to go.

    • 0 avatar

      and the threats do happen. Ralph Nader got nuttin’ on your friendly Buickman.

    • 0 avatar

      and if not an employee? a coup to offset the cuckoo…

  • avatar
    cargogh

    I had to reread, “Call Of Duty: Akerson’s Battle With The Truth
    By Bertel Schmitt on June 1, 2012.”
    I liked that story.
    Thanks Bertel.

  • avatar

    TTAC was nuts on right about GM before the crash.

    People really need insight into the monsters and
    sociopaths that run these multinationals. I
    thank you, whoever you are.

  • avatar

    the author isn’t important, it’s the information and the message that matter most.

    • 0 avatar
      Athos Nobile

      You may be right on the author, but the “message” is a nice (and calm) summary of what DeLorenzo has been writing for the past 2 years. The detail and other perspective is certainly refreshing.

      It is food for thought and I keep my salt recipient close to the computer while reading this.

  • avatar
    LALoser

    For me, clarity and truth are important. The message and information can be put through any number of filters. If this is written by an insider; are they bitter, burned by the stock value, or pure in thought? Is it written by a competitor? Or is it written by a Wall Street investor? Everyone will have their own reasons to say and do certain things. Of course it is surprising that a large multi-national company is headed by an ego-driven bumbler…or not.

  • avatar

    the Dan/Joel ordeal mentioned calls into question the CEO’s motivations. however canning the guy is one redeeming decision. Ebonic was out of control and failing all over the board, from personnel decisions, to agency cronyism, to crappy slogans, and right on through horribly complicated incentives that makes more than one ask whether LaNaive and his godfather Pistol Pete had in fact vacated the Tubes or were simply operating remotely from venues such as S Saginaw in Grand Blanc (to where a certain very high level exec is known to travel by way of product evaluation).

  • avatar
    mitchw

    Hopefully, board member Admiral Mullen is doing some ‘management by walking around.’ Keep it coming, Bertel

  • avatar
    chimichanga

    Two things happened the day Ed N.’ WSJ op-ed was largely discredited on these pages.

    1. The Best and Brightest became MY HEROES. You know who you are.

    2. I stopped reading these stories.

    • 0 avatar
      Advance_92

      You mean you were taking things seriously when he would make appearances on Fox News?

      • 0 avatar
        chimichanga

        I wasn’t even aware of them. I also wasn’t aware that TTAC had a particular editorial thrust, not shared by my favorite thorough commenters who take the time to put the proverbial dots on top of those i’s. When I noticed, my initial reaction was “TTAC Death Watch.” I’m over it now. I understand the need to diversify articles; I understand the need to try out new things, even when biased and lacking the necessary firepower. So I ignore them and cherish the rest.

  • avatar
    jimboy

    Mr Ackerson reminds me very much of Bob Nardelli, both unqualified to run a major automaker, but unwilling or unable to face the truth of their situation. Sadly, it is the companies themselves that lose in the end. Take a lesson from Benedict XVI, gentlemen.
    Step back gracefully before someone pushes you over.

  • avatar
    doug-g

    To put my opinion in perspective, I am in the “Guinness Book of World Records” as the only person on earth who actually likes Ray Wert AND Joel Ewanick. (I can’t remember the page, it’s right after the chapter on “Farm Animal Oddities”).

    I don’t really care who is writing this as what they say is spot-on up to this point and I look forward to reading the next two installments. Dan Akerson needs to go. Akerson NEVER should have been put in (allowed in)the CEO position to begin with. Dan’s idea was no doubt that he had been with GE and GM is only one letter different so what’s the big deal? WRONG person at the WRONG time. GM needs a guy who understands product and can connect with the public. Chrysler was bailed out and practically GIVEN to Fiat. Through clever manipulation the company is becoming the darling of the American public. Go figure.

    The only people at GM more inept than Akerson would have to be the board of directors. They are letting all this happen with a rubber stamp.

    • 0 avatar

      Ewanick is a first class %^&*(. I can tell you from personal knowledge. the guy had to go. if I have any equity here and my assessment means anything, trust me. useless.

      • 0 avatar
        mike978

        Buickman – I don`t know Ewanick but his reputation (from Hyundai) seemed positive.
        Maybe he did need to go but they way it was done was wrong. Any information you can share about why you hold Ewanick in low regard would be appreciated.

        • 0 avatar

          met him 4 times on a personal level. would hesitate to say so except he wasted my time and was a first class prick. pompous, indignant, unresponsive, and literally demeaning. can’t stand the guy. that aside, he continued the same old rebate structure that confuses and irritates. miss him not do I. suffice?

  • avatar
    Some Guy

    “When the government rescued General Motors from certain disaster, it was a chance at a fresh start. A chance to not just slow GM’s half-century of market share loss, but truly return America’s largest automaker to its place of pride. With debts erased, unions tamed and coffers restocked by the government, all things should have been possible. And yet, first under Ed Whitacre and now Dan Akerson, General Motors has consistently failed to live up to its true potential.”

    Maybe GM should advertise their cars as much as the iPad so people will forget that there is choice in the marketplace. It worked for Apple.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      It worked for GM too, back when there was more domestic competition from the “big Five” (AMC and Studebaker). You couldn’t escape GM advertising in the ’50s and ’60s, from radio and TV, to ads in newspapers and magazines, to billboards. Today, the only GM ads I see are online that others have pointed out. Funny, when they had the most advertising, they had the biggest market share.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Once upon a time widows and orphans were told to invest in this company.

    • 0 avatar
      doug-g

      True. Do you remember when they used to announce the President’s parade route several days in advance and our stay-at-home moms would take us downtown to watch him drive by in a convertible with the top down? Afterwards it was the coffee shop at Woolworth’s for a root beer float. Later, we kids would play safely in the park until our home cooked meal was prepared. The entire family would later sit down to watch the Donna Reed show while mom and dad enjoyed a martini. Homework (without a PC or a calculator) was next and then off to bed where mom and dad would come tuck us in, give us a kiss on the cheek and wish us sweet dreams.

      • 0 avatar
        Summicron

        Aaarrgh… OK, I have to ask…

        Doug-g, what *is* that in your avatar pic?
        I’ve Ctrl-+’d the screen all I can and it looks like a bunny-frog mating with a 1928 Chevy toy.

        *Is* it a bunny-frog mating with a 1928 Chevy toy?

        • 0 avatar
          Summicron

          Oh…. never mind…

          Played with it some more and realized I was looking at a young homo sapiens… undoubtedly someone near & dear.

          Facepalm and apologies.

          • 0 avatar
            doug-g

            That’s actually a picture of a very young me playing with a car my father had when he was a child. No apologies required, it loses something in miniaturization.

  • avatar
    Domestic Hearse

    No new ground covered, and some old themes re-plowed. Maybe some inside evidence or reporting is coming in Parts II and III that’ll help explain why this writer felt s/he needed to remain anonymous. Don’t get me wrong, all the points made in this piece are quite valid. Summarized nicely. But this op-ed could’ve been written by many auto reporters.

  • avatar
    360joules

    I am not a Bertel pawn. In fact, he once deleted what I thought was a funny post comparing the VAG up! (which he seemed very high on) to the German slang for vomiting. But in his formative professional years, he watched Opel dramatically lose market share in its home market. Perhaps he was part of the cause of Opel’s decline (Ascona marketing vs. Golf), perhaps he has an axe to grind professionally against Opel or GM. Maybe he secretly blames GM for Opel’s decline on the death of a beloved relative who was an Opel employee [merely a speculative example]. Perhaps some other agenda but he has allowed someone post with information he finds relevant with an editor’s note. Waiting for Part 2 & Part 3.

    • 0 avatar

      I do not delete comments (except for the extremely rare instance where the content would be a violation of law.) Even if someone gets banned, the comment stays as an example for what one gets banned.

      I would have remembered it. First, there is no more VAG. Long gone. I was there when it was secretly buried. See http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/05/vwporsche-auto-union-what-the-nsfw/

      Second, Up! has nothing to do with any German slang for vomiting I would be aware of. The usual slang wort would be kotzen.

      If your comment gets caught by the WordPress-internal “bad word” list, it will be flagged. Simply edit-out the bad word ….

      I am sure “kotzen” would not be on the list.

      The rest of your speculations are a few continents off the mark.

  • avatar
    Type57SC

    Fair and balanced.

    The company looks underperforming, but doing one-sided pieces that are held up as the “truth” about cars isn’t doing the trustworthiness of this site any favors. I’m sure he’s done some worthwhile things too. Tossing Ewanick sounds worthwhile for example, but stacking up opinion and conjecture against him like above sets off my bullshit meter. Again, I’m not praising him as Mulally/Marchionne caliber, but this was an opportunity missed to write a pros<cons assessment.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      A pro/con assessment isn’t what the piece is all about. At the very top it’s listed under “editorials”. It’s an opinion piece about the management style, motivations, and decision-making of a key individual whose performance is critical to the success or failure of post-bankruptcy GM, from an insider’s point of view. Why do you assume it’s an analysis or investigative piece?

      • 0 avatar
        Type57SC

        I don’t assume that it’s supposed to be an investigative piece; I bemoan that it is not, since that’s what I’d like to read here.

        It certainly doesn’t look to be written by a GM insider, given the lack of new information.


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