Out with the old ...
New GM CEO Daniel Akerson has some huge shoes to fill
By Jennifer Hadley 08/19/2010
Another day, another CEO of GM. This time the revolving door has opened to Daniel Akerson, who is set to take over Sept. 1, following the relatively shocking news that CEO Ed Whitacre will resign. Whitacre’s resignation appears to have been completely unexpected, considering the company may be within just days of filing for public status once again. Moreover, the company just posted its best quarterly profit in six years. So why is Whitacre leaving? And what can we expect from Akerson?
We all know the danger in assuming anything, but I’m going to do so anyway. To his credit, Whitacre never intended to be a long-term CEO. He made no bones about the fact that his job was to clean up the disaster he inherited from Rick Wagoner and Fritz Henderson, while at the same time looking for a more permanent leader of the company. And while I’d prefer to make fun of him for leaving at a time when things are finally looking up for the company, I have to say I understand the reason. Who wouldn’t want to go out on such a high note?
The facts just don’t lie. In just 10 months, Whitacre steered GM back on track. GM posted a loss of $3.5 billion in the last quarter of 2009. Three months after Whitacre took over, the company posted a profit of nearly $1 billion. As of the second quarter of this year, GM’s profits have risen to $1.3 billion. True, General Motors is still largely “Government Motors,” but I have to give credit where credit is due.
Whitacre accepted what may have been about the crummiest job in the world when he stepped in as CEO. And he turned the company around seemingly without batting an eye. It’s as if he went into the role with a one-track mind — “Must fix company. Me fix company. Me leave company.” So I don’t blame him for stepping down now. But, I have to say I feel pretty sorry for incoming CEO Akerson, who now has to fill the shoes of the man who may go down in history as the guy who saved GM.
Akerson is going to have to sell the company shares to investors. He’s going to be the face of the company when it does return to public status. He’ll be in charge of running the largest automaker in terms of US sales — all while the country continues to struggle with unemployment, low consumer confidence and a general sense of malaise. So even without having to follow in the success of his predecessor, he’s got his work cut out for him. Oh, he’ll probably also have to move to Detroit. Eww.
In spite of my generally disdainful attitude toward American automakers, I’m rooting for this guy. Unlike Whitacre, who really had nowhere to go but up, Akerson has a whole lot to lose. If recent history is any indication (as in four CEOs in 18 months), he needs to keep the forward progress at GM moving at a breakneck speed, or he’ll be looking for a new job in less than a year.
So while I don’t understand why anyone would want to assume such a huge responsibility, I wish Akerson all of the best. You should too.
Contact Jennifer Hadley at firstname.lastname@example.org