By on November 15, 2013

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With reports circulating that General Motors CEO Dan Akerson will step down sometime next year, the executive told Automotive News that he wants his successor to be a change agent and a risk taker. “There’s no prototypical CEO,” Akerson said. “A good leader has to be innately bright, intellectually curious. They have to be a change agent, never satisfied with the status quo.”

Akerson, whom some say brought more accountability to GM’s bureaucracy said, “You have to establish accountability and an orientation to risk, recognizing that we’re not a fault-free company,” he said. “Have the humility and audacity to say ‘I made a mistake,’ and back up and go down the other way.”

Akerson, 65,  wouldn’t comment on a timeframe for his retirement and said that the choice of someone to replace him will be made by the GM board of directors, which he heads as chairman. “I think we do have people here that I think fit that bill,” Akerson said, without naming anyone. “Of course, I’m on the board and I’ll have an opinion. But that’s kind of what I would look for.”

Akerson was hired in 2010, an outsider to what he perceives as a insular, parochial industry. He put Bob Ferguson, like himself a former telecommunications executive, in charge of the Cadillac brand. He also picked Mary Barra to be in charge of GM’s global product development though she has a relative lack of experience in vehicle engineering. Barra is considered one of the front runners to replace Akerson when he retires. More recently Akerson gave Barra oversight over GM’s $75 billion purchasing operations.

Besides Barra, others said to be on the short list of those who could replace Akerson are GM North America President Mark Reuss, CFO Dan Ammann and Vice Chairman Steve Girsky.

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53 Comments on “Akerson Wants Next GM CEO To Be “Change Agent”...”


  • avatar
    Detroit-X

    GM needs a change agent, one not afraid to burn the system to the ground that mayor may nothave promoted them to a position to do just that. Simply: Ignoring the ‘basics of business’ is a huge part of why GM ran itself into the ground. And denial; lots of denial.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      GM’s ‘change agent” has nothing to fear or worry about. GM was bailed out once already and will be bailed out again and again, if need be, no matter who is in the White House or who controls Congress.

      From that perspective, it’s easy to try new things and be a change agent. GM can’t lose.

      Don’t worry, be happy! GM has the full faith and credit of the US backing it. Another Hopey- Changey crusade with the US taxpayers left holding the bag.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Akerson wants next GM CEO to be a change agent, he also wants the company to have greater product synergy, and return higher perceived value for the customer. (come on guys help me spew some more meaningless drivel straight from a business textbook.)

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      Perhaps he’s the “elephant in the room”?

      “Meaningless drivel” brought back bad memories of some of my business travel in the 1990s where I had to sit and endure that garbage in endless meetings! Who’s kidding whom?

    • 0 avatar
      Bark M.

      He’d like him to open a dialogue about the proper utilization of resources across all business units, partnering together to maximize return on investment, casting a shadow of leadership, and increasing individual and organizational accountability. People come first.

    • 0 avatar
      DC Bruce

      And, of course, someone who “thinks outside of the box,” Dan. (I always chuckle when I hear that expression. As a long-time cat owner, my association with “think outside of the box” is when a cat decides to pee outside of the litter box, in such inconvenient place like inside your running shoe.)

    • 0 avatar
      el scotto

      It’s called death by PowerPoint. We all recognize the signs of poisoning from it and those with PowerPoint ranger tabs morosely salute each other. Ackerson is too dense to understand everyone recognizes the babble and no on is drinking the company supplied kool-aid.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      Lessee, there’s being pro-active, pursuing objectives, laser-like focus – it’s all in Akerson’s next book, “The Audacity Of Audacity”.

      • 0 avatar
        Lorenzo

        Oh, wait. I forgot the antonyms: jumping the gun, chasing rainbows, and missing the forest for the trees. An anal-retentive executive can be counted on to turn those shibboleths into reductio ad absurdum.

    • 0 avatar
      jkross22

      Let me try:

      We must find a leader who can help with synergy across our enterprise. We need a take charge executive who can manage adversity and find a win for even the most challenging of circumstances.

      HR priorities: This person must be over 40, female, minority and have a peg leg. A track record of professional successes is strongly preferred.

      • 0 avatar
        danio3834

        From the HR priorities I’ve seen lately, over 40 might actually disqualify someone. We’re not really allowed to ask age anyway, but it can be inferred!

        • 0 avatar
          Lorenzo

          HRs are female-dominated,and I’ve heard that’s bad news for pretty women applicants. The HR girls are looking for male dreamboats, but at that level, a “distinguished” rich guy with salt and pepper will do. IOW, a baldy Dan Akerson would never be hired by any HR.

          • 0 avatar
            PrincipalDan

            @Lorenzo, so you’re saying I should get a haircut and put on my best suit?

            Oh wait the salt and pepper is only in my goatee and mustache right now and the top guys tend to be clean shaven. But hey I do have hazel eyes. ;)

          • 0 avatar
            Lorenzo

            @PrincipalDan: You can probably keep the mustache but keep it trimmed, but the goatee has to go. Try smiling a lot and keep those pearly whites pearly white. A low, deep, husky voice and longing gazes at the women of HR might help too.

            That’s only if you need a NEW job. At your level, your promotions/appointments are supposed to be preceded by an interrogation by a panel of three. You may be past that to the one-on-one interview. If the 1-on-1 interviewer is female, all the HR tips would still apply.

            Be careful of becoming the assistant toy-boy though. Keep that professional sheen and you can still make it as a “potential” backup toyboy – female execs like to stockpile them. Now, about the pickup you’re driving…

    • 0 avatar
      philadlj

      Core competencies. Bandwidth. ISO9000. Power clashing.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    Off-topic a bit:

    Isn’t it interesting that increasingly prominent people and commercials use classic cars almost exclusively? Why not show them in a car more common for the times, like an Impala, Accord, Camry, etc?

    Of course, no car manufactured today can match the style and flash of the so-called classics, so what’s an adman to do?

    The main article aside, I tend to judge with my eyes first, so that’s what came to mind.

    Back to article:

    Whether Akerson can change things for the better or not, a “risk-taker” is not always a recipe for success in a mega-corporation, as few “leaders” have the persona and charisma as in the past. Thinking Lee Iacocca, chiefly.

    Whoever takes over the reins at GM had better be prepared for the consequences, whether positive or negative, and be able to live with it.

    I feel GM is on the right track, mostly, with their products of the last few years, even if the recently redesigned Malibu didn’t hit all the marks it was supposed to.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      Iacocca was a notable industry risk taker. And it paid off for him more often than not. Of course sometimes it didn’t…TC by Maserati anyone? But more often it did, Mustang, K cars, Minivan which were risky ideas at the time.

      It helped that he could sell his ideas, but even when he couldn’t, that didn’t stop him. For better or worse.

    • 0 avatar
      tkewley

      It’s worth remembering that Iacocca was fired at Ford when his ego got the better of him, and was not so gently eased out the door at Chrysler after running the company back into the ground building endless variations of the K-car. He was good at hiring capable people (and then taking credit for their efforts), but on balance he probably did only slightly more good than harm in his career.

  • avatar
    Detroit-X

    Risk Takers…

    One thing I’ve been a proponent on is that these people in high places in a company, the highest place in GM’s case, are all too often a bunch of fXcking cowards. They have all the wealth they need to live in high fashion (unless they blew their cash stupidly), so why not take personal risks to improve a company for millions of people? In the past, GM’s culture has promoted agreeable wieners, who all carry on the wiener tradition. Akerson is different, thankfully, but he must have a great laugh once in a while, thinking to himself: “I’m getting paid so much money, just to teach Business 101 to a group of executive idiots.”

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      Remember that 3 part haterade rant about Ackerson from a while back? I’d be great if the writer was revealed. In all, Ackerson hasn’t been bad for the company, but some people out there sure don’t like him.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    GM NNEDS a game changer. They’ve evolved, pretty much hard to argue at this point – but they haven’t “changed,” enough.

    Product quality is certainly better (CR reported that only two Chevy models were below average in the quality department and only the LaCrosse with the V6 was below average from Buick) and the product mix has improved. They’ve had some hits that have surprised (Spark, Sonic, Cruze, Verano, Encore, new Impala), they got some things right that needed to be right (Lambda), and they’ve had some stumbles (ATS, XTS, Volt), and some outright fails (current Malibu).

    There is still a lot that can change. I don’t know how much “risk” capacity GM has given they are still emerging from the ashes. On the other hand, Ford did literally bet the farm around 2006, and it paid off for them. The “quality” issues at Ford aside (I put quality in quotes because wonky infotainment systems and wonky shifting trannies aren’t exactly the most serious quality problems one can have – but it is still an issue).

  • avatar
    wmba

    Selim Bingol at work burnishing Lt j g Akerman’s resume by making him out as some statesman before he departs, and attempting to enshrine his remembrance as some supernatural selector of the talent who should follow in his shining footsteps.

    A load of hogwash. With a name like Bingol, you’d better be good at PR, kind of like Smuckers isn’t bad industrial jam.

    What a hoot if anyone gets taken in by this fluff!

  • avatar
    FunctionOfX

    Marchionne’s busy…Rob Ford might be available?

  • avatar
    Conslaw

    Elon Musk. Seems absurd at first glance, and I don’t think it would happen unless Elon actually takes over General Motors. Consider this though. Tesla’s market cap right now is 16 billion. General Motors’ is 53 billion. If Tesla’s market cap doubles, and GM’s goes down by 20 billion, Tesla could come out the winner in a “merger of equals”. Remember that Steve Jobs emerged in charge at Apple after Apple bought out Jobs’s nearly bankrupt NeXT Computer. Stranger things have happened.

    • 0 avatar
      DC Bruce

      If the Queen had balls, she’d be the King.

      Elon Musk has successfully developed an expensive toy for the 1/2 percent. Even better, he’s gotten governments (federal and California) to provide the product with massive direct and indirect subsidies that may make his company financially viable (or not; see latest quarterly results).

      None of this suggests that Tesla Motors will ever approach GM, Ford, Fiat/Chrysler, VAG, Daimler-Benz or even BMW in size; nor does it suggest that Tesla would be a successful leader of GM.

      The so-called “merger of equals” you speak about would be about as disastrous as the “merger of equals” between AOL and Time Warner, Inc. I give Steve Case this: he totally hornswaggled Gerry Levin (Time Warner’s CEO at the time) into trading the stock of a company that made real money for one that was, in dollar terms, the biggest bomb of all the “dot.bombs” of that era. If Elon Musk is lucky enough to find as big a patsy as Gerry Levin in charge of some real car company, he may pull it off. But guys like Gerry Levin are not born every day.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      Fantasy merger time again. Perhaps in the soon to be TTAC forum, we can have a section for fantasy auto mergers and executive teams. It could be like fanatasy football for auto industry junkies.

      • 0 avatar
        bball40dtw

        So we get to have a draft and make trades? I’ll trade you Mark Fields and Ed Welburn for Mark Reuss and William Clay Ford Jr.

        • 0 avatar
          danio3834

          You can have WCFJr, but I get to keep Reuss. I’ll also swap Fields for Farley.

          • 0 avatar

            It seems that a lot of people underestimate Mark Fields. I know that I first thought of him as a suit with a nice haircut but away from the cameras he knows the car biz and he has Mulally’s confidence.

          • 0 avatar
            danio3834

            He offered Fields, I offered Farley. I think Fields is underrated and is due for a breakout few fiscal seasons. Farley is good, but I think he peaked when he was with Toyota.

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            I wasn’t trying to trade him for Ed Whiteacre, it was for Mark Reuss. Both Fields and Reuss are up and comers poised for breakouts in the future.

          • 0 avatar
            Lorenzo

            Golly. You guys make auto exec chess seem like inside baseball. Which one is the going to be the first to hit a “home run”, and for what “team”?

  • avatar
    Pch101

    “Change agent” is a euphemism for “someone who will be disliked by a lot of company lifers.”

    My guess is that he’s paving the way for Barra, who did not rise up the ladder in the usual way and who will not be a popular choice among certain factions within the slow-turning aircraft carrier that is General Motors. (Having the second X chromosome probably won’t help her to win many intracompany popularity contests, either.)

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      Change agent is a euphemism for someone who will be disliked by a lot of company lifers.

      As someone hired by his last two employers specifically as a change agent to bring operational excellence to organizations – yup – lifers don’t like change agent.

      The old Wayne’s World gag with Garth going, “change, we fear change,” and then starts smashing the animated hand with a hammer about sums it up.

    • 0 avatar
      th009

      Barra might well be able to do it. And she just might get picked for it as well.

  • avatar
    OneidaSteve

    it is so easy to armchair quarter back. GM is a multi national behemoth, there are boards and panels and government/union/supplier/finance relationships. It is not unlike being president of the USA – you may be the most powerful person, but you cannot act alone. An ‘out of the box’ person rarely has the political skills (because they think they are smarter than everyone else always) to succeed in such an organization.

    No one (probably) tells Elon Musk no. His money, his vision, his way. This would not be the case with GM unless he buys out all the shareholders, and moves production to Mars (no union, governmental, supplier realities).

    So in the real world, when the power window switch for the 2021 Impala has already been contracted for, and a shipping contract from Burma has just been negotiated, you dont have all the options to ‘bring change’ that you might think.

  • avatar
    AlternateReality

    Photo caption: “Dipshit Dan’s first-time ever in a Corvette, a polo shirt, or a ball cap.”

  • avatar
    James2

    I nominate… me!

    I can push forward cars not ready for prime time as well as the next guy.

    I will tell Chevy not to make the Corvette look like a GT-R. (I will also tell them the Silverado needs to look like it’s actually a new design.)

    I will get Cadillac to build the Sixteen. (And to tone down the styling of the CTS… it reminds me of the Predator.)

    And I will bring back actual, for-real, by-God station wagons!

    How’s that for Change?!?


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