It is the one question I hear more often than any other.
What do you think Rick Wagoner is thinking right now?
I get this question from investors, auto industry executives, GM insiders, even fortune 500 CEO's (one asked me and then said, "If you talk to Rick, tell him a lot of CEOs think he got a raw deal.").
Whatever you think, and I know many of you reading this believe the guy ran General Motors into the ground and is now gone so who cares about him, what Wagoner thinks remains a mystery. Ever since the White House fired him at the end of March, Wagoner has been silent. As GM went in and out of bankruptcy, he said nothing publicly.
Now that he is getting more than $8 Million as he finally leaves GM (final day is officially August 1st), don't expect Wagoner to talk.
Sure, he probably has a lot of thoughts about everything that has happened to him and GM- wouldn't you? But I doubt we'll hear much, if anything, from the former CEO.
For starters, it's not Wagoner's style to air dirty laundry- even if it makes others smell bad.
Sure he probably has many stories about dealing with the Auto Taskin the weeks leading up to his firing.
But Wagoner is too proud to come out now and complain.
He's never been one to publicly rip others, even when he's had cause.
Second, Wagoner doesn't want to say anything that will hurt GM. Many of the executives (CEO Fritz Henderson for example) now running GM were protege's he brought up through the ranks over the last 25 years at GM. He doesn't want to cast a shadow on them. It's their turn now to lead GM, and Wagoner wants them to go about their business without having to answer questions about him. So he sits in silence.
Ironically, while Wagoner was fired for not getting GM to move fast enough in transforming its business, he still comes to mind inside GM, in the auto industry, and even in the executive ranks outside of GM. A few weeks back I was talking with an executive from a GM rival and he said, "People don't realize how much GM changed under Wagoner. He doesn't get credit for that."
None of this is to say Wagoner was without blame for the demise of the old GM. As CEO he certainly could have moved even faster to downsize GM, to sell brands like Saab and HUMMER, to push GM employees to change how they do business. And critics will focus on those shortcomings (along with GM losing tens of billions of dollars) instead of giving Wagoner credit for the what he did accomplish running the auto maker.
What does the former CEO think about his legacy now?
My gut says we won't find out anytime soon.
CORRECTION: An earlier posting mis-stated how much money Mr. Wagoner was receiving. This was a copy-editing mistake and has been corrected. Apologies to Mr. Wagoner.
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