Behind the Wheel with Phil Lebeau

GM's CEO Search Goes Global

General Motors Headquarters

With GM now searching for a permanent CEO, the hunt will be unlike any the auto industry or the folks in Detroit have seen before. 

For decades, U.S. automakers have promoted from within and the primary focus has been improving or, in recent years, fixing the company's North American business. 

Not anymore.

GM is looking for a CEO with extensive experience or expertise running global manufacturing firms.  In particular, GM would love the next CEO to understand how to grow and leverage operations in Asia. 

Makes sense, given the fact China has become the #1 auto market in the world, and India is growing at a rapid pace as well. 

This is not to say GM will hire someone who has little knowledge or understanding of the U.S. market.  This is still the most profitable auto market in the world and with Uncle Sam owning 60% of GM, making sure General Motors remains #1 at home will be critical.  But, make no mistake; the auto world no longer revolves around Detroit alone.

In fact, the next CEO at GM will truly be a "global CEO", much as Carlos Ghosn is for Renault-Nissan.  He or she will be charged with keeping GM #1 in China and the U.S., while also growing sales in India, Russia, Brazil and other developing markets.  Add in the complexity of figuring out when to mix in alternative powered vehicles. 

  • Could it be an American from outside the auto industry?  Absolutely.  Ford CEO Alan Mulally is a perfect example. 
  • Could it be a long time GM executive with vast experience in Asia?  Yes.  Nick Reilly, who has now shifted back to GM Europe, could be the guy. 
  • Could it be someone from a foreign automaker?  Maybe, though finding the right person willing to jump from their company GM would be a tough act to pull off.
  • Could it be Ed Whitacre who stays CEO?  You bet.  Personally, I don't see that happening, but after the firm hunts around, they could decide Whitacre is the best person to stay in charge for now.

One thing is certain.  The next GM CEO will be focused on Shanghai as much as he is main street U.S.A.

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