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General Motor's Akerson sees no big changes ahead of IPO

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General Motor's Akerson sees no big changes ahead of IPO

Christina Rogers / The Detroit News

Detroit -- General Motors Co. new CEO Daniel Akerson said today the Treasury Department doesn't plan to divest its ownership stake in the automaker all at once and says no management changes are planned at the automaker.

And he said the company looks forward to the government's full exit.

"It is a goal of this company ... that I don't think that is going to be done in one fell swoop," he told a group of auto reporters this morning at the Renaissance Center, GM's headquarters in Detroit, in his first public comments since taking the helm on Sept. 1.

Akerson, GM's fourth CEO in less than two years, steps in at a pivotal time for GM, which filed paperwork last month for an initial public offering -- its first in a half century -- and will soon embark on a worldwide tour to pitch itself to investors. He also will preside over the launch of the much-hyped Chevrolet Volt later this year, the company's first mass-produced, plug-in electric hybrid.

He said no significant management changes were planned.

"I like the team that's on the field -- I think we have a good team that's preformed well," said Akerson. He will assume the board chairmanship starting Jan. 1.

He predicted some continuity with GM chairman Ed Whitacre, who stepped down as CEO Aug. 31 after he told the board he couldn't commit to staying as CEO for an extended period.

"I think Ed and I share a lot of common traits in our leadership style -- of course, you're coming out of bankruptcy, it's a tough time for our employees. He provided some continuity and leadership to really lift the morale -- my job is a different job," he said. "One thing I'd like to bring to the organization is speed."

He said the company still is working to transform itself since its 2009 exit from bankruptcy as a government-sponsored enterprise.

"It's critical our storefronts represent the new GM," he said. "We have to move into advance propulsion; we've talked about it as an industry."

Akerson also noted the benefit GM has experienced from going through bankruptcy, which allowed it to shed nearly $30 billion in debt.

"The acid bath of bankruptcy has given the company unbelievable opportunities and the wherewithal to capitalize on them," he said.

When asked about criticism about having a combined CEO/chairman position, Akerson said: "There are different models. I've seen it both ways -- it was the determination of our board this was the best solution at this time."

Akerson, a Republican, acknowledged the $85 billion auto bailout as unpopular. Of that, GM received about $49.5 billion. The government swapped about $43 billion of its stake for a 61 percent stake in GM.

"I think the bailout wasn't right politically wasn't left politically, it was the absolute right decision for this company," he said.

Akerson has until now refrained from saying much publicly about his leadership plans for GM. He addressed employees last week -- his first major companywide communication -- in a 45-minute discussion held at the Renaissance Center and webcasted to GM facilities worldwide. Akerson also has met with top United Auto Workers leadership and noted the importance of union collaboration in a letter sent to employees before Labor Day weekend.

The unions begin negotiating a new contract with Detroit's Big Three next year -- but they are barred from striking until 2015.

Akerson arrived at GM in July 2009 as a Treasury Department representative to the GM's board. The former U.S. Naval Academy graduate is a newcomer to the auto industry but has a deep background in finance and telecommunications.

Formerly a managing director at one of the world's largest private equity firms, the Carlyle Group, Akerson is acquainted with Wall Street and the challenges of turning around troubled companies.

From The Detroit News: http://detnews.com/article/20100916/AUTO01/9160437/1148/GM-CEO-sees-no-big-changes-ahead-of-IPO#ixzz0zhRqy23o

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