Final Inspection

No Hollywood Ending as Whitacre Rides Off Into Sunset

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Talk about a faster-moving General Motors.

Ed Whitacre went from non-executive chairman to CEO to golden parachute all in little more than a year.

The legacy he will leave behind is an equally short one. The former AT&T chief should get credit for shaking up top management; kick-starting a new, faster-moving and results-oriented culture; and perhaps giving employees up and down the ranks a greater sense of empowerment.

But, despite the CEO’s pronouncement his job was done with the auto maker’s second-straight profitable quarter and impending stock offering, GM’s turnaround is far from complete.

Unless the U.S. Treasury sells its entire stake in GM through the upcoming IPO – a seemingly unrealistic scenario, the auto maker still has a long way to go before it can shed its “Government Motors” stigma and declare ultimate victory.

In the meantime, GM needs to put its European operations back on solid footing, begin to rebuild its market share in the U.S., reduce its reliance on incentives to lure in retail buyers and prove it can engineer and build world-class, “gotta-have” vehicles despite its new, slimmed-down infrastructure.

It also must settle down the troops, who have seen nothing but upheaval in the past 12 months and are now conditioned to wait for the next ax to fall.

Of course, Whitacre’s departure won’t help that. But even with the short-term hit from his sudden exit, the auto maker will be better off with a CEO who is in it for the long run – if that is indeed the case with Dan Akerson.

Whitacre always appeared in a hurry – and not just because he wanted a speedier GM. The auto maker’s resurrection from the bankruptcy ashes will take a slowly unfolding miracle, but Whitacre seemed impatient to declare game over and ride off into the sunset.

The ending isn’t the Hollywood one Whitacre may have envisioned. But let’s just say the Texan did what he thought he had to do and leave it at that.

GM’s revival requires a marathoner’s, not a sprinter’s, approach – and better long-term vision, patience and stamina from the new guy.

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What's Final Inspection?

WardsAuto editors share insights and observations on the global auto industry.

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Dave Zoia

As Editorial Director, I oversee much of what goes into WardsAuto.com, enjoying a ringside seat that lets me observe up close just about every facet of the industry worldwide. I have covered the...

James M. Amend

James Amend is an associate editor at WardsAuto.com, covering day-to-day business and product news at General Motors. He also leads coverage of regulatory and environmental issues, as well as the...
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