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Is GM's New CEO the Right Guy to Steer the Company?

Thursday, 12 Aug 2010 | 2:10 PM ET
Daniel Akerson, Managing Director of The Carlyle Group
Source: mason.wm.edu
Daniel Akerson, Managing Director of The Carlyle Group

Right now, you might be saying to yourself, "Who is Dan Akerson? What does he know about running a car company?"

Fair questions.

But they may not be the most important question to ask following his selection to become the new CEO, and ultimately chairman, of General Motors.

The real question is why the GM board has picked Akerson to step in to the top job as of September 1st.?

This is partially about setting up GM for a successful IPO. The company will file registration papers for the IPO tomorrow and within a few weeks the road show with investment banks will begin.

If GM is going to have a successful IPO, it needs to remove major question marks the large institutional investors will have about GM's leadership post-IPO. In other words, who's going to run this company for the next 2, 3, 4 years? Current GM CEO and Chairman Ed Whitacre Jr. has said all along that he's not in for the long run at GM, so it's only natural investment firms will want to know who is going to run GM the next several years.

  • Poll: How Should GM IPO Be Structured?

This is also about the GM board picking an outsider with a long history running a company. Akerson has been around the block a few times. He's a managing director at the Carlyle Groupwho has previously run General Instrument, Nextel and XO Communications.

You look at that list and say, "Hmmmm, he knows the telecom industry, but does he know how to run an auto company?" The GM board is clearly looking at Akerson's experience as an executive and in dealing with the capital markets and see that as a positive that outweighs his lack of knowledge about the auto business.

"The real question is why the GM board has picked Akerson to step in to the top job as of September 1st.?" -Behind The Wheel, CNBC, Phil LeBeau

Finally, the other question Akerson will need to answer, and answer fairly quickly is, what his vision is for GM and can he get GM to build and sell cars and trucks people want to buy?

GM has some extremely talented people designing, engineering, building and selling its vehicles. Will Akerson let them do their job and flourish? Or will he meddle in areas where he lacks expertise? That's not to suggest he's going to show up at the design studio. But there is a fine line between getting your team to execute and weighing them down with a lack of vision or too much interaction.

The biggest question with the selection of Akerson as GM CEO is Akerson himself. Aside from a few brief comments on the GM earnings conference call, we have no idea what type of CEO he will be.

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___________________________ Questions? Comments? BehindTheWheel@cnbc.com

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  • Phil LeBeau is a CNBC auto and airline industry reporter based in the Chicago bureau and editor of the Behind the Wheel section on CNBC.com.

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