The appointment of Mary Barra as the Chief Executive Officer of General Motors, and the related shattering of the glass ceiling associated with the first female chief executive of an automaker, may have overshadowed an intricate development within the automaker concerning its vice chairman Steve Girsky. Specifically, GM announced that 51-year-old Girsky, who was GM Vice Chairman as well as the Chairman of the Adam Opel AG Supervisory Board, will leave GM in April 2014.
Girsky’s “in” at The General was part of the same bailout-related influx of new blood that made Ed Whitacre CEO after the ousting of Fritz Henderson while making Dan Akerson a GM board member (and later CEO to replace Whitacre). With directoral responsibility for global corporate strategy, new business development, global purchasing and supply chain, global product planning and program management, global connected consumer/OnStar, and GM Ventures LLC and global research & development, Girsky most certainly didn’t have it easy. And that’s not to mention his serving on the boards of GM Ventures, GM Financial Company, and European Automobile Manufacturers Association. To sum it up, the ex-consultant, advisor, and analyst oversaw a significant amount of areas at The General, possibly the most important of which was GM’s Germany-based subsidiary Opel.
The Guessing Game
Keeping in mind his relatively young age (for an executive), we’re left pondering the following possibilities surrounding Girsky’s departure:
Was it planned and voluntary? There were rumors that Akerson would leave in 2014, but we never heard any about Girsky’s departure.
Was it political or sentimental? Some thought Girsky was a candidate for GM’s CEO job.
Was Girsky forced out? Perhaps there is significantly more to the situation than what we know here and now.
We hope to find out the answers to these questions at some point in the near future. For now, though, all that’s certain is that Girsky will move to a senior advisory role until he leaves the company in April 2014. And that puts a certain strain on Opel.
The issues surrounding Opel (and sister brand Vauxhall) are numerous and well-documented. Today, we can sum them up like so: the division has lost money every single year so far during this century.
Opel is a separate business operating in and of itself while being owned by GM, it’s sort of “a company within a company”: it had its own C-level executives, its own board of directors, and its own financials. Some would say that it’s the only remaining element of GM’s original “divisions” versus today’s “brands”.
But given that Opel isn’t entirely solvent, it needs to secure funding from parent GM while having an impact on other issues within The General (such as product planning and development). That being the case, Opel should have a seat or two on the main GM board. Girsky’s departure changes that, taking that seat away.
With one less seat on GM’s board of directors, it would seem that Opel now has one less supporter within its parents’ house. The development is noteworthy and should not be taken lightly, sine it seems to concern those involved with Opel directly. It also puts pressure on fresh-but-settling-in Opel CEO Karl-Thomas Neumann.
In other words, it seems that without a supporter at GM proper, it’s make-it-or-break-it time for Opel. With Barra at the helm and nobody to defend Opel, the next few years will certainly be interesting to watch.