What GM's New CEO Must Do First

For Dan Akerson, GM's new incoming chief executive, there will be one question he hears time and again, when he meets with other leaders of the automaker Tuesday: How long are you planning to stay in charge?

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

Sure, this may not be the first question on the minds of GM executives, but it may be the most important. After decades of building an executive culture that was insular and slow to change, GM's top leadership team has become a place of uncertainty and instability.

How much have things changed?

In the old GM, it was pretty clear, for years in advance, who the heirs apparent were to the CEO chair. Everyone knew Jack Smith would eventually give way to Rick Wagoner and that Wagoner would give way to Fritz Henderson.

In the new GM, it's not uncommon for executives to have little idea about who or what will happen next in GM's leadership ranks. To quote one GM executive when I asked about Dan Akerson, "I've never met him, don't know anything about him."

Now, in reality, it's not unusual for an executive at a company the size of GM to have little to no contact with a board director. Still, it underscores the need for stability at GM.

Yes, the company has come through bankruptcy better than anyone expected. Now it's time to see if the new GM can grow and turn a profit quarter on quarter. To do that, Dan Akerson needs to lay out a clear plan, and have it be one GM sticks to for some time to come. Having the same CEO for the next several years also has to be part of plan.

Akerson has given the GM board his word he plans to stay. Great. Now he needs to sell Wall Street on the idea that he is the man—and his plan is the plan to run GM for the foreseeable future.

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