A recent conference call with Mark Reuss (newly-appointed president of GM North America) and Susan Susan Dochery (vice president of Sales, Support and Marketing) – our coverage here – provided some more information about chairman and CEO Ed Whitacre – particularly his management style, personality, and goals for the company. Whitacre, who retired as chairman and chief executive officer of AT&T in 2007, was appointed chairman of the “new GM” on June 9 (2009). On December 1st, after the sudden resignation of Fritz Henderson, Whitacre also added CEO to his title. Since not much information was provided about Henderson’s departure, it has been speculated that Whitacre and Henderson bumped heads on many issues and that Fritz was ultimately shown the door. As such, many wondered whether Whitacre was going on a plain-old power grab – hoarding as much power to himself as possible. Reuss’ and Docherty’s comments during the conference call have revealed that the “power grab” rumor couldn’t be further from the truth.
Both executives spoke highly of Whitacre and said that he is very goal-oriented, genuine, and has high expectations for everyone at GM. Instead of a summary, here is the transcribed text from Mark and Susan:
What I don’t want on my comments is to look like just because I just got promoted, that I’m in love with the new CEO…. this guy is one of the most honest, genuine people that I’ve met. And forget about whether it’s in the auto industry or anything else he is a terrific person and so that’s really important to me… and the integrity and the honesty and the straightforwardness is something that I personally value a lot… and I’ll leave it at that.
… over the last 60 days in my role as VP of sales, I’ve had a chance to interact with him while he was the chairman of the board of directors… he’s obviously now added CEO to his title… my observations would be that he digs very deep into the organization and wants to unleash talent within the organization which I think is positive… I think that even though he does not consider himself an auto expert he asks great questions and from a personal standpoint I would say that he’s pretty clear that he expects people to perform… he wants positive business results and if he sees something that’s off track he’s gonna hold me in particular and I’m sure all executives accountable.. I happen to have a product right now that has a pretty ___-day supply and there isn’t a time that he doesn’t ask me about what it is that myself and the team are doing to go and resolve it and to be quite frank with you – I like being accountable for that… he’s not telling me how to solve the problem but he’s pretty clear with me that he expects me to solve it… and as a leader, there isn’t anything more that I could ask from him than to support me in that effort but I certainly know where I stand in terms of where his expectations are of me.
When asked whether they had any idea about Whitacre’s plan to remain as CEO and Chairman (emphasis on the CEO part), both Reuss and Docherty replied that they didn’t know.
The GM Authority Take
This is good news. From where I stand, Whitacre seems to be exactly what the bankruptcy courts prescribed the New GM: someone with enough charisma and brains to make the necessary changes and hold the right people accountable. Right now, what the automotive media needs to do is relax and let all the newly-placed GM executives – including Reuss and Whitacre – find their footing and do their jobs. And about that power grab thing: it’s beginning to seem that it was pure headline grabbing on the part of the media. The man’s just out to help GM, not take it over! Glad I didn’t publish anything of the sort!