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Akerson Keen to Instill ‘Attacker’s Culture’ at GM

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Akerson Keen to Instill ‘Attacker’s Culture’ at GM

By Eric Mayne

WardsAuto.com, Sep 17, 2010 8:41 AM

DETROIT – Dan Akerson is setting a speedy course for General Motors Co.

The U.S. Naval Academy grad who took the helm of the world’s second-largest auto maker this month says he is trying to instill “an attacker’s culture” at GM to sharpen its competitiveness.

GM needs to “shift from being a defensive player to an offensive player,” he says today at GM headquarters during a get-acquainted session with journalists.

“To pay offense, whether it’s in sports or the military, speed is of the essence,” Akerson says. “I’d like to make it institutional.”

In particular, he wants to accelerate the development of global platforms and key technologies such as vehicle electrification. But Akerson also is mindful of the business at hand, which includes satisfying dealer demand for GM’s hottest products.

Despite heroic efforts, such as building extra bodies for the Chevrolet Equinox cross/utility vehicle and shipping them to a second plant some 60 minutes away for final assembly, inventories are still tight. Through August, GM had a 28 days’ supply of the Equinox and 33 days’ supply of its GMC Terrain platform-mate, according to Ward’s data.

“It does worry me,” Akerson says. “We are adding shifts in certain plants associated with certain models. We’re trying to meet that demand. I care a lot – a lot – about what our storefront sales organization thinks. And we need to improve that.”

Through August, GM sales were tracking 6.3% ahead of like-2009, even when the current totals are compared with prior-year, when GM boasted three additional brands. Pontiac, Saturn and Hummer were axed as part of the auto maker’s restructuring.

“The acid bath of bankruptcy has given this company an unbelievable opportunity,” Akerson says, making no apologies for GM’s acceptance of government aid.

The Obama Admin.’s intervention kept the company afloat, which buoyed a major U.S. industry and benefited the economies in several states, he says. The “critical” nature of the crisis was a prime motivator behind his acceptance of the board position that preceded his appointment as CEO, succeeding Ed Whitacre.

“What drove my decision was a sense of service to the nation,” Akerson says. “This is a critical company at a critical time, core to the basic infrastructure of America.”

He credits Whitacre for having “righted the ship,” adding it’s his job to chart a return course for sustained profitability.

GM has filed papers for an initial public offering, which Akerson does not address, citing SEC regulations.

The auto maker has repaid the Treasury Dept. loans it received, but the federal government maintains a 60.8% ownership stake.

Akerson also admits to personal motivation for accepting the CEO position. “I can’t imagine a more interesting and challenging opportunity than (running) General Motors.”

He assumes the mantle of chairman from Whitacre in December and defends the strategy of wearing two hats. “I’ve seen it work,” Akerson says, adding it is the “best model for this company at this time.”

In addition to strengthening GM’s bond with the 4,500 dealers that will form its sales network, Akerson is keen to rekindle lost customer relationships. Citing the reversal of fortunes at Apple Inc., it is possible, he says, adding: “You can, with consistency, quality and durability, win your customer set back.”

Will he try to leave his fingerprints on GM products? Akerson says he expresses his “point of view” about vehicle programs, but he defers key decisions to people such as design chief Ed Welburn, noting the difference between architects and engineers.

Architects are engineers who have creativity, he says. “I’m an engineer.”

Akerson graduated from the Naval Academy in 1970 with a bachelor of science in engineering.



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I like the Attack Mode position it would be nice to see some speed in responce to market change. Though it hurt locally(we now only have DmaX as a GM presence) I was truly impressed with the speed of change in production rate at GM during the meltdown. Others moved lightning fast also but for GM to move that fast was a feat that no one was expecting and quite scary, glad things are looking a little better now.

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Architects are engineers who have creativity, he says. “I’m an engineer.”

him saying that puts me instantly in love with the man.

that said, Ed Wellburn is ahem, not an architect...lol

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