There are a lot of good things going on atthese days.
It's solidly profitable, despite abysmally low sales in its home market. It's holding onto market share even though it got rid of four brands. It has highly competitive products and superb technical capabilities. Even so, there are troubling signs at GM.
This is not a company that turned itself around. Its newfound competitiveness came about solely because the Obama Administration waived a magic wand, better known as a 363 bankruptcy, and made most of its legacy costs disappear overnight.
The current board of directors can take little credit for the company's impressive resurgence.
Plus, you have to wonder what's behind Chairman and CEO Ed Whitacre's decision to step down by the end of the year. Everyone knew Whitacre would not be around for the long haul, but it clearly caught everyone by surprise.
And I do mean everyone. GM's press release announcing his replacement misspelled Dan Akerson’s name. It even forced the board to temporarily delay GM's much-awaited initial public offering.
Something triggered Whitacre' s abrupt decision. Car sales in the U.S. are slowing down. Opel is a mess that is going to take years and billions of dollars to straighten out. And this time, there won't be any European governments willing to help make problems go away. Looks like Whitacre decided to git while the gittin’ was good.
So now it all falls to Akerson, an investment banker who spent most of his career in the telecommunications industry. Can he possibly be an effective Chairman and CEO for GM?
Former GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz told the Detroit Free Press Akerson could be effective, but he will “need to temper his preconceived notions with a willingness to listen to those who have transformed GM from a product and marketing standpoint.” Doesn’t exactly sound like a ringing endorsement, does it?
While Wall Street and business pundits believe the fresh perspective an outsider can bring is just what GM needs, I beg to differ. The only thing that's going to ensure GM's prosperity going forward is designing, engineering, manufacturing, and marketing world-class products. Putting someone in charge who has no experience in these areas is inviting trouble.
Can you imagine any of the world’s other top auto makers selecting a CEO and chairman from the telecommunications industry? The Europeans, Japanese and Koreans would never do that.
Sure, some point toCEO Alan Mulally as an example of what an outsider can do to turn an auto maker around. But Mulally came from Boeing, a large industrial corporation where workers are represented by the UAW. That experience easily translates to the auto industry.
GM desperately needs a well-seasoned CEO who thoroughly understands the global automotive industry. Current GM executives such as Tim Lee and Nick Reilly fit that bill, but they are better left in charge of their current duties heading International Operations and Europe, because those operations don't need more management upheaval.
My advice to GM’s board is to bring back former CEO Fritz Henderson. He knows the company inside and out, knows the global automotive business and had an impressive track record until he was unceremoniously dumped by the company. Fritz can’t be blamed for the legacy morass GM was mired in. That happened well before his watch.
Why go on a massive headhunting search to find someone who will take months to get up to speed? You could drop Fritz into that position this afternoon and he would hit the ground running.
John McElroy is editorial director of blue Sky productions and producer of “Autoline” for WTVS-Channel 56, Detroit, and “Autoline Daily,” the online video newscast.