“Two quarters (of profitability) do not a trend make, we have to post numbers consistantly.” — GM CEO Daniel Akerson.
GM’s new CEO wants to pay the government back, but says it’s going to take time.
“It is the goal of this company to return that money to the taxpayers,” said Daniel Akerson, in a breakfast meeting with a select group of reporters, including WWJ’s Jeff Gilbert. “I don’t think it’s going to be in one fell swoop. Over the next couple of years that will happen.”
Ackerson says the “bailout” of GM was not a political decision, it was the right decision for the company and the country. He isn’t concerned, Akerson said about those who characterize GM as standing for “Government Motors.” Akerson saying one day he want’s people to think of the company as “Global Motors.”
“General Motors is being run like any other company,” Akerson said. “But we have one large shareholder (the government) who is very interested in how we are doing.”
Akerson wouldn’t give a timetable on selling off the government’s 61 per cent stake in GM.
“I don’t think any investor group has infinite patience,” said Akerson, referring to the American taxpayer. He wouldn’t talk specifics about GM’s initial public offering of stock, expected in November.
(Listen To Daniel Akerson’s Media Briefing)
Two weeks into his new job, Akerson said is predecessor Ed Whitacre righted the ship, now it’s his job to take it forward.
“Bankruptcy has given this company new opportunities and the ability to capitalize on them,” he said to reporters at a morning news briefing.
Akerson says, going forward, that he wants GM to pick up speed, that a GM that had to think about survival before, can now think about growth.
“We want to play offense. We want to be in attack mode,” said Akerson. He said General Motors must have an “attackers mentality.”
“To play offense, speed is of the essence.”
Ackerson says GM is a critical company at a critical time, and he took the CEO’s job out of a sense of service. He calls it a great challenge and a “labor of love.”
“I’m not here for the short term,” he said. “I don’t view myself as transition.”
And that also means more change, possibly constant change.
“This company’s model will not sustain itself over the next 10-15 years,” he said.
The new CEO said GM is positioned well in terms of alternative fuel vehicles, and said the Chevy Volt electric vehicle can serve as a basis for a number of future business.
That’s important, Akerson said, because new fuel economy rules mean cars will have to become lighter, smaller and more fuel efficient. When asked, the new GM CEO said he believes global warming is established science. He wouldn’t comment on where he believes fuel economy standards should be.
He praised GM’s future products, saying the styling is wonderful, calling it a “gift” that former vice-chair Bob Lutz came to the company. He also said the vehicles will be safe, durable and good values.
As a telecommunications veteran, Akerson is particularly interested in GM’s Onstar service, which is being re-invented. He said the previous Onstar model didn’t work.
“It used to be an automotive version of ‘Help me, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.”
Improving relations with dealers is also on Akerson’s agenda. He says they went through difficult times as well. He says when he visits different cities, he plans to meet with dealers. Akerson says Ed Whitacre did a good job of repairing the relationships, but more work needs to be done.
Ackerson not committing to new hiring, but says he’d like to grow the business, and that would mean more production, Which leads to more hiring.
Akerson currently drives a Cadillac CTS. He says his wife traded in her Lexus for a Cadillac SRX. For the last twenty years, Akerson said he drove a foreign product, which he didn’t specify, because he had an issue with a General Motors vehicle that he had owned. He says prior to that he and his family had been GM loyalists.
Akerson said he plans to move here, that his wife is now looking for a house. He also plans to have a civic role, but doesn’t plan to have a high profile.
“I’ve been stunned at how beautiful this city is,” Akerson said, adding that companies have a roll to play in communities. “Hopefully a healthier General Motors and Chrylser will help.”
The overall economy, despite the recession, is “vibrant,” Akerson says, but long term the country needs a strong manufacturing base.
“I do think we can keep a strong, vital manufacturing base in this country, and I think it’s important.”
The new GM CEO says he likes his management team and isn’t planning any changes.
Unlike Whitacre, Akerson said he doesn’t plan to be in any of GM’s ads. He says he’d like to see funnier commercials.
Akerson deflected all questions on politics, saying turning General Motors around is a big enough job. He said he hopes to turn around an old saying.
“What’s good for America is good for General Motors.”