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General Motors CEO Dan Akerson talks of 'great opportunity'

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General Motors CEO Dan Akerson talks of 'great opportunity'

BY CHRISSIE THOMPSON

FREE PRESS BUSINESS WRITER

General Motors CEO Dan Akerson said GM needs to go on the attack in his first companywide broadcast since becoming CEO last week.

"He said, 'We're good right now, but we've got to get a lot better,' " said a person who watched the broadcast Wednesday. " 'We have this great opportunity because of this clean balance sheet to become an aggressor rather than a reactive company. We have to take an attack mentality.' "

Akerson, GM's fourth CEO since March 2009, told employees he thought he could do more good for the U.S. as GM's CEO than he did in his career as a naval officer, said the person, who wasn't authorized to speak about the broadcast and declined to be named.

Akerson, 61, also shared some personal details in the broadcast from the Renaissance Center. He said he voted Republican and talked of the football loss his alma mater, the Naval Academy, suffered on Labor Day to the University of Maryland, the person said.

One GM employee asked Akerson to define character, based on a homework assignment the employee's son had this week.

"Reputation is what others see, and character is what God sees," Akerson said, according to the source. The CEO also passed along advice he gives to his children and grandchildren: " 'Go back and check and make sure you've done it absolutely right,' " the source recalled.

Akerson said he was prohibited legally from discussing GM's stock offering, which a source has said is tentatively planned for mid-November.

Ed Whitacre, who transferred the CEO position to Akerson on Sept. 1, joined the town hall meeting, saying good-bye to the employees he has led as CEO since December. Whitacre, 68, plans to cede the chairmanship of GM's board to Akerson by year's end.

The board replaced Whitacre after he said he didn't want to stay on as CEO long past the stock offering, the Free Press previously reported. Both CEOs have served on GM's board since July 2009, and both are former telecommunications executives.

Spokesman Tom Wilkinson confirmed Wednesday's broadcast took place, but declined to confirm Akerson's comments.

Akerson's political stance, which he backs with campaign contributions, was brought to the attention of U.S. auto task force member Ron Bloom when Akerson volunteered to serve as an Obama administration appointee to GM's board. Bloom's response, according to a former Akerson colleague: "He sounds perfect."

Read more: General Motors CEO Dan Akerson talks of 'great opportunity' | freep.com | Detroit Free Press http://www.freep.com/article/20100909/BUSINESS01/9090365/1331/business01/General-Motors-CEO-Dan-Akerson-talks-of-great-opportunity#ixzz0z2J2KnJv

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In webcast, GM'S new CEO talks about vision

David Shepardson and Christina Rogers / The Detroit News

Detroit -- In his first major address to his company's global workforce, General Motors Co.'s new CEO, Daniel Akerson, urged employees Wednesday to "be on the attack" against rival auto companies.

Sitting alongside the company's chairman and former CEO Edward Whitacre Jr., the new GM boss introduced himself to employees, fielded questions and talked about his vision for moving GM ahead. The 45-minute meeting originated in Detroit and was webcast to GM facilities worldwide.

"We need to be on the attack," Akerson said, according to two employees who watched the event on an internal telecast.

The Associated Press reported that Akerson used BMW as an example, saying that GM's Cadillac luxury brand has to make cars that are better than BMW's 300, 500 and 700 series sedans.

Through August, BMW has sold 139,236 vehicles, beating Cadillac by almost 47,000 cars and trucks, according to Autodata Corp.

Akerson, who spoke under the watchful eye of the company's top lawyer, was careful to avoid any talk of the company's planned public stock offering this fall.

The company is in a "quiet period" before its IPO, meaning no GM official or spokesman is authorized to speak about it publicly.

Akerson, just a week into his new job, said the company's balance sheet has improved since it emerged from bankruptcy in 2009, but more work remains.

"The only way to become a great company is to get better," he said.

GM reported a profit of $2.2 billion for the first half of the year, including a $1.3 billion second-quarter profit -- its highest quarterly profit in six years.

The two executives sat in high-backed chairs for what was described as a town hall-style discussion. It was held at GM's Renaissance Center headquarters and moderated by Selim Bingol, the company's chief spokesman.

Whitacre, 68, received applause for his tenure as CEO. He will stay on as chairman until Dec. 31, when Akerson will assume that title as well.

Akerson, a GM board member since July 2009, left private equity firm Carlyle Group as a managing director last month.

GM's 61-year-old new boss, in introducing himself, told his employees that he helped manage a $167 billion portfolio of investments at Carlyle. Those investments include Allison Transmission, Hertz and Dunkin' Donuts.

A spokesman for the automaker, Tom Wilkinson, confirmed the essence of Akerson's comments.

He called it "an opportunity (for Akerson) to connect with employees and get a sense of him as a person," and said the CEO's message was that the company "is back, the ship's been righted ... and now it's time for GM to compete."

Akerson, GM's fourth CEO in less than two years, will be crucial to convincing investors to buy stock in a weak market. GM will have to convince investors it can perform well, even though it already has predicted weaker second-half results for the year than the $2.2 billion profit posted in the first half.

The company plans to start courting investors in early November, after the midterm congressional elections, a source briefed on the matter has told The Detroit News.

Akerson will lead a stock sales team in a worldwide marketing push -- often referred to as a "road show" -- as they pitch the company to investors.

GM is 61 percent owned by the federal government, which is eager to get out of its majority ownership position.

During the town hall meeting, Akerson was asked by an employee about an assignment his child had received about the importance of character. Akerson said the assignment offered a parent a rare chance to offer a life lesson. "Reputation is what others think of you. Character is what God thinks of you," he said, according to employees paraphrasing him.

From The Detroit News: http://detnews.com/article/20100909/AUTO01/9090349/1148/auto01/In-webcast--GM-S-new-CEO-talks-about-vision#ixzz0z2RVZCGo

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AP Source: New GM CEO wants automaker to beat BMW

By TOM KRISHER

AP Auto Writer

DETROIT (AP) -- General Motors' new CEO told employees that the automaker needs to make cars and trucks that are better than those of competitors such as BMW.

Former telecommunications executive Daniel Akerson, in his first webcast to employees since taking over as CEO Sept. 1, said the company needs to go into "attack mode" to stay ahead of rivals, according to a worker who watched the speech on Wednesday.

The speech comes just before GM's board meets this week. Directors may set a date for the sale of GM stock to the public, perhaps in November. That sale would make GM a publicly traded company again after a radical overhaul in bankruptcy court.

Akerson, 61, told employees that GM needs to keep competitors on their heels rather than responding to what they do, said the worker, who asked not to be identified because the webcast was not public.

Akerson used BMW as an example, saying that GM's Cadillac luxury brand has to make cars that are better than BMW's 300, 500 and 700 series sedans.

Through August, BMW has sold 139,236 vehicles, beating Cadillac by almost 47,000 cars and trucks, according to Autodata Corp.

In his 40-minute address, Akerson, who has been on GM's board for about a year, said he is learning quickly about the auto industry but faces a large amount of information.

"He said he's drinking from a fire hose right now," the worker said.

Akerson last week replaced Ed Whitacre, who was also known for an aggressive style. He fired ineffective executives, starred in GM commercials and led the company to two straight quarterly profits after years of losses.

Akerson, GM's fourth CEO in less than two years, was introduced by Whitacre, who told employees that he stepped down because the company needed a CEO who would be in charge long after the stock sale.

Whitacre, 68, a retired CEO of telecommunications giant AT&T Inc., said he didn't want to stay too long after the sale, which is called an initial public offering.

Like Whitacre, Akerson has worked as a top executive at major telecommunications companies, holding leadership posts at both MCI and Nextel. A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, Akerson was appointed to GM's board by the government in July of last year after GM emerged from bankruptcy protection. He also led global buyouts for The Carlyle Group, a private equity firm.

Whitacre will stay on as GM chairman through the end of the year, and no replacement has been named for that position.

GM is 61 percent owned by the federal government, but the company hopes to shed that majority control with the IPO.

link:

http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/U/US_GM_CEO_SPEECH?SITE=MIDTN&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT

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