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GM's Akerson Biggest Challenge a Long Ways From Complete

This week General Motors will hold its first annual meeting since coming out of bankruptcy two years ago, and among the flurry of questions about GM one will stand out: Is the new GM a changed company?

Daniel Akerson, Managing Director of The Carlyle Group
Source: mason.wm.edu
Daniel Akerson, Managing Director of The Carlyle Group

I get this question a lot, as does GM Chairman and CEO Dan Akerson.

While I certainly don't know GM as well as Akerson, my gut says he knows his company is nowhere close to where it needs to be.

It is leaner, better focused, and has a top management team that knows it has to move faster.

All good news and a credit to Akerson and his top lieutenants. The guys running GM understand the world has changed and they have to run the world's second largest auto company differently.

Now the bad news. GM's middle and lower management is still plodding along, resistant to change. In fact, getting all of GM to realize times have changed is perhaps the #1 challenge facing Akerson. Don't kid yourself, he knows it and he doesn't like the way many GM still resist "getting religion."

You'd think bankruptcy and looking over the edge would scare the middle manager at GM to realize he or she needs to move faster, be smarter, and clue in. Sadly that hasn't happened for many in a company that slid into bankruptcy because it was jogging along while Toyota,Honda, and more recently Ford and Hyundai were running a sprint. When I talk with consultants, auto supplier executives and others who deal with middle management of GM I often hear, "It's the same old GM."

This is the reason Akerson has infused GM with outsiders like Steve Girsky (vice chairman who was a top auto analyst on Wall Street) and Joel Ewanick (who was the marketing genius behind Hyundai). Akerson knows GM has to do better, and do it faster. In many ways he has succeeded. General Motors today is better positioned to beat competitors around the world. Look at the Chevy Cruze and you'll see why sales for the car have been red-hot.

All of that is good news for Akerson and his team as they get ready to hold their first annual meeting. But make no mistake, Akerson's just starting in his push to turn GM into a nimble, aggressive auto makers.

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___________________________ Questions? Comments? BehindTheWheel@cnbc.comand Follow me on Twitter @LeBeauCarNews

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