It's not the same old GM: Activist Harry Wilson

Harry Wilson's truce with GM
Harry Wilson's truce with GM   

Activist investor Harry Wilson wants potential shareholders of General Motors to know the automaker is a much different company than it was in the lead-up to the 2009 government-led bankruptcy.

"People look at this and say, 'It's the same old GM.' It's not the same old GM. It's actually a radically different company," he told CNBC Tuesday, a day after striking a deal with the automaker to get more cash returned to investors.

Wilson—who had also served as senior advisor to President Barack Obama's auto task force—said in a "Squawk Box" interview, "This is why the stock trades at a discount to what it's really worth."

General Motors agreed Monday to buy back $5 billion in stock and put forth a new capital allocation plan, which offers investors a more transparent view of GM's cash investment proposals than previously disclosed.

In exchange, Wilson dropped his bid to get a seat on GM's board.

Harry Wilson: GM making progress, staying competitive
Harry Wilson: GM making progress, staying competitive   

"If you look at the auto industry over the past several decades … times are good they over-invest and make bad acquisitions, they over-spend. And those mistakes come home to roost in the downturns," he said—stressing the new capital plan will help prevent history from repeating itself.

Going forward, the automaker will also aim to keep $20 billion in cash on its balance sheet and return free cash flow beyond that to shareholders. GM had built up roughly $25 billion in cash as its sales and profits rebounded following its 2009 government-led bankruptcy.

Read MoreGM gets ready to give back billions to shareholders

"We have always agreed that the company should have enough cushion to weather a 2008 or 2009 downturn," said Wilson, chairman and CEO of turnaround merchant bank Maeva Group. "They have an enormous amount of cushion."

But, he added, "the question though becomes at what point does being conservative leave a lot of stranded capital that's effectively under-earning." He said that's why he partnered with four investment funds to push for changes.

Wilson said he personally owns over 30,000 shares in GM.

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