Once one ofCorp.'s golden boys, not much has been heard from or about Louis R. Hughes since he was sidelined during GM's reorganization a year ago. Mr. Hughes had headed International Operations (IO), which was abolished when it was combined with its North American Operations (NAO) to form a single global structure. NAO President G. Richard Wagoner moved up to corporate president in that shuffle, while Mr. Hughes got the innocuous title of executive vice president for New Business Strategies.
That set the rumor mill spinning and, among other things, Mr. Hughes reportedly was a candidate to head United Airlines. That didn't happen. Mr. Hughes confirms he has moved his home to Chicago, commuting to his office at GM's World Headquarters in Detroit. GM sources indicate he may soon make the move permanent, although they won't speculate about where he may eventually land.
Mr. Hughes has not been idle: He is part of a team involved in trying to work out a deal to acquire bankrupt Korean automaker Dae-woo Motor Co. Ltd. Leading the GM contingent, sources say, are Alan Perriton, GM executive in charge of Asian/Pacific operations, and GM China President Rudy Schlais.
Daewoo is no stranger to Mr. Hughes nor to GM, which supplied technology and components to Daewoo and for a time imported a small car built by Daewoo and sold it as the Pontiac LeMans.
As IO chief, Mr. Hughes knew Daewoo as a competitor in Europe, where the Korean company - like GM - has established a major presence in Poland. That's another reason GM thinks Dae-woo would make a good fit.
GM had something akin to "a letter of understanding" for exclusive rights to pursue a deal with Daewoo, but it's understood that it expired last Nov. 30. Which may explain why suddenly other automakers made noises in December about possibly seeking a hunk of Daewoo.Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler AG, both with tiny market shares in Asia, were specifically mentioned as potential suitors.
But mostly it's about getting a toehold in Korea itself, a market virtually closed to foreign automakers.