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GM'S Rick Wagoner: We can do it

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GM'S Rick Wagoner: We can do it

'The future of the company is held in balance by the actions that we all take in a relatively short period of time.'

Bill Vlasic and Brett Clanton / The Detroit News

DETROIT -- Wall Street is trashing his stock. Analysts are predicting a bankruptcy. Critics in the media say he should be fired as chairman of General Motors Corp.

But Rick Wagoner is not about to give up the wheel at GM -- or deviate from the plan he believes can restore it to greatness.

"I'm doing what I'm doing because I love General Motors," Wagoner said Tuesday. "I think it's very important what we're doing in the company, and I think I'm by far the most qualified person to do it."

Wagoner occupies the hottest seat in corporate America, a 53-year-old GM "lifer" under fire for decades of decline by the world's largest carmaker.

Yet as he presides over the most dramatic restructuring in GM history, Wagoner has neither the time nor patience for outsiders who say GM is destined to fail.

"It's easy to stand back and come up with great ideas, OK?" he said. "It's not so easy to do this stuff."

In an interview with The Detroit News on Tuesday, Wagoner said that the massive overhaul of GM operations will produce markedly improved results in 2007.

He also expressed confidence that a costly strike will be avoided at bankrupt parts maker Delphi Corp., and that many GM and Delphi hourly workers will take early retirements or buyouts as the automaker downsizes.

Wagoner admitted that investors, employees and other stakeholders have a right to be nervous about GM's future. Last year's $10.6 billion loss, combined with GM's shrinking share of the U.S. new-vehicle market, have spurred speculation that GM may yet have to follow Delphi into bankruptcy.

And while GM's board on Monday made a public show of support for Wagoner, he remains in the crosshairs of critics calling for his ouster.

"There's blood in the water, and a lot of people are looking to tear (Wagoner) apart," said George Magliano, an industry analyst with Global Insight in New York.

Wagoner is keenly aware of what he calls the "assaults" on his performance by media outlets such as The Wall Street Journal. "That can wear on you," he said.

Tough talk isn't enough

But his low-key manner fades quickly at suggestions that he is not tough enough to tackle hard issues involving GM, Delphi and the United Auto Workers.

"It's easy to talk tough," he said. "But I would invite anybody in who says you should play hard-nosed with the union. Yeah, you come sit in this chair the third week into a strike and see how that feels."

If GM is the beleaguered giant of the U.S. auto industry, Wagoner is its face, the personification of a proud but troubled company determined to come back despite huge odds stacked against it.

Sitting in his shirtsleeves at a conference table in his Renaissance Center office, Wagoner ticked off the milestones so far on GM's road to recovery: health care cost cuts for salaried and hourly workers, a dozen plant closings, the planned elimination of 30,000 factory jobs and the sale of a controlling interest in GM's prized finance division.

He is particularly pleased with the agreement reached last month by the UAW that will offer buyouts ranging from $35,000 to $140,000 to every one of GM's 113,000 hourly employees and another 13,000 workers at Delphi.

"What could be better?" Wagoner said. "We have a number of people who would like to retire. We provide them a reasonable, but not excessive incentive to retire. It's not a comprehensive solution, but it's a very important piece of the puzzle."

Buying out older workers, he said, is critical to opening GM jobs for workers who may be displaced in Delphi's reorganization plan. Beyond that, the buyouts can create space for idled workers in the controversial "jobs bank" program, which provides full pay and benefits for laid-off workers.

More importantly, the attrition program was negotiated and accepted by the UAW. While Wagoner has come under fierce attack from outside the company, he has gained an unusual measure of respect from the union's leadership.

UAW expresses support

In an interview Tuesday on WJR-AM, UAW Vice President Richard Shoemaker praised Wagoner for his sensitivity to workers whose livelihoods are on the line in GM's restructuring.

"I do think that Rick Wagoner is trying very, very hard to do what he believes is necessary to make General Motors a viable company for the long term," Shoemaker said. "And I think he is sensitive about the impact these things have on employees."

That level of trust between Wagoner and the UAW is vital to negotiations over Delphi's restructuring.

With Delphi Chairman Robert S. "Steve" Miller petitioning the bankruptcy court for sweeping cuts in union jobs and wages, the UAW is bracing for a fight and possibly a strike that would cripple the delivery of parts to GM.

Wagoner has become the pivotal figure in talks between GM, Delphi and the UAW to solve how Delphi can downsize its operations without brutally slashing factory jobs and paychecks.

He downplayed the possibility of a long, damaging strike, saying that all sides have too much to lose. "It would be a significant failing on the part of all three of us -- the unions, Delphi and GM -- if we can't come to a resolution without a major strike," Wagoner said. "It would be a good example of doing the worst for all of us."

He said he would be surprised if Delphi's reorganization is not resolved peacefully "over the next couple of months." Still, the prospect of a Delphi strike is the most unsettling factor in GM's immediate future.

"The one variable that could throw this whole thing in the trash basket is if Delphi workers walk," said Magliano.

Wagoner said skeptics need to appreciate the intricate, interdependent relationship between GM and the UAW, and the challenges that global competition have thrust upon both.

"We're in a tough time, and if GM's not successful, (the UAW) will have to help with the solution," he said. "There's no solution to this without their engagement."

Time is running short

But Wagoner knows the clock is ticking on GM. The automaker is losing millions of dollars a day, and GM's board is feeling its own pressure to push Wagoner and his team to move faster.

"He's got the right team of executives in place that can execute the changes," said Kevin Reale of AMR Research in Detroit. "The challenge is can he make it fast enough that the board is going to think he's the right guy."

The pressure, Wagoner said, is both wearing and exhilarating.

"We're at an epochal time in the history of GM. The future of the company is held in balance by the actions that we all take in a relatively short period of time," he said. "You want to make sure you do it right."

Wagoner and his deputies have steadfastly refused to offer specific guidance on when GM will return to profitability. However, he said that $7 billion in cost-cutting measures should transform the company's bottom line by next year.

In the interview, he sketched out on a yellow legal pad how GM identified its strategic alternatives in 2005, is implementing them in 2006, and expects the payoff in 2007.

"I have a high degree of confidence that we will show improved results," he said.

"We can't continue with the kind of losses we had last year. We need to get it turned. But to me, we will."

While Wagoner's unflappable optimism irks some investors, analysts and journalists, members of the GM corporate family have rushed to his defense.

Wagoner supporters step up

News reports predicting GM is heading toward an inevitable bankruptcy have galvanized support for Wagoner from dealers across the country.

"It gets a little tiresome to read articles from people who don't understand the situation and continue to pick on someone who is working so hard," said Carl Sewell, a major GM dealer in Dallas.

Wagoner takes offense at what he termed "backward looking financial analysis" that judges GM's future based on its past.

"We are at a juncture right now doing things that haven't been done in the history of GM," he said. "And I'm the guy who knows more about it than anybody because I'm right in the middle of it. And I feel pretty sure about it."

Some of the financial problems GM is facing are not Wagoner's doing, but have accumulated over GM's 100-year history. Yet he is blamed for everything, said David Fischer, who has 10 dealerships in Michigan.

"Rick Wagoner is not the type of guy to say, 'It's not my fault.' "

Pushing his team harder

GM insiders say that Wagoner is driving people harder than ever, forgoing sleep and time with his family to lead a historic transformation of the company.

"Time is the big enemy," said one GM executive close to Wagoner. "Does GM have enough time to do what it needs to do?"

Wagoner won't set a time limit on his own tenure as chairman and chief executive. He politely refused to discuss his future, except to say that he has paced his own "bet" on a successful GM revival.

"People are putting their bets on the table. And what I say is, we'll see how this plays out."

Link: http://www.detnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/artic.../604050402/1148

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I want to beleive this is true. I hope Ricky can do right

and turn the tide. If he "saves" GM single-handedly it will

still only make up for canacelling the B-body in 1996,

letting the 4th gen. F-body rot and stagnate in the late

90s not to mention still draging his feet about the Zeta

program in the late 90s & early 2000s.

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I hate it when people say he should be fired... Seems when something's failing badly or not doing well they always try to look for someone else to lead for a quick escape.. (I.E. Shwarzenegger for California and Hitler for Germany).

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The guys in the white coats just showed up. I ordered a vanilla and two chocolates.

Getting a little Oreo action going on? Just remember to destroy the video, I doubt a person with your sparkling reputation wants their interracial sex tape released to the public. Just imagine what Wagner would do with that tape if he got ahold of it.

(And no, I dont mean Wagner would "beat it")

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Guest buickman

Last summer I predicted GM would spin GMAC, pundits here proclaimed I was crazy. When they announced GMS, I froecasted a $10 Billion loss for the year. Again, I was accused of being nuts. Years ago when Lovejoy had his 29 pins, I warned him to change the marketing or change the pins to 24. I have a plan which will Return GM to Greatness yet I receive undue criticism for my attempts to bring healing to a very sick company. It's a shame we can't get past implementation of the first twenty steps, contained within the next set are some real guaranteed winners.

More Ziegler:

"Is Jim Dollinger a pathetic moron as many would have you to believe…or is he the car messiah…the voice in the wilderness showing us the way out of the desert?"

Buickman

Edited by buickman

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Guest buickman

He continues...

"Well, I gotta tell ya. I’ve spent hours looking over what Dollinger has written and, truthfully, I believe the majority (not all by any means) of what he says will work and will immediately restore a lot of GM’s lost market share."

Another supporter writes:

"It has been a great pleasure to read about your continued persistence and efforts to return General Motors to greatness; and my great grandfather, Billy Durant, would certainly be proud and honored by your passion and knowledge of the automobile industry. There is no doubt in my mind that if he were alive today, you would be his first candidate for his Board of Directors. "

Daniel Durant Merrick

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"Is Jim Dollinger a pathetic moron as many would have you to believe…or is he the car messiah…the voice in the wilderness showing us the way out of the desert?"

Buickman

Should we elaborate on an answer?

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Buickman: Thank you for ruining another perfectly fine f@#king thread. I propose you show yourself the door before we do.

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Buickman: Thank you for ruining another perfectly fine f@#king thread. I propose you show yourself the door before we do.

I second that. Why can we not have a thread that doesn't include bashing Wagoner, and BM promotion by himself and his dealer buddies from "dealers monthly" or whatever its called.

All BM does here, is market himself, like he is some kind of car god. If he was a car god, he would have been hired by one of the auto manufacturers.

And BM, dont you know you lose credibility(not like you have any left) when you are so one sided and cant be objective? I can sum up every one of your posts in one sentence. Wagoner sucks and should be fired/arrested, and BM is the greatest, and can fix GM. How many times will you repeat the same exact thing?

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Is there an option on Cheers and Gears that let's you filter out posts by member name?

Edited by 4gm

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Is there an option on Cheers and Gears that let's you filter out posts by member name?

Yes.

Go to your Control Panel. On the left panel closer to the bottom there's a link named "Manage Ignored Users". Select it and enter who you don't want to see posts from there.

Quick and easy.

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Buickman: Thank you for ruining another perfectly fine f@#king thread. I propose you show yourself the door before we do.

No matter the circumstance, I don't think it's ever appropriate for a 17 year old boy to ever use foul language towards an adult in his 40's or 50's. I don't read or respond to Buickman's posts because his posts bore me, but no kid should talk like that to an adult. I guess young people are taught that their self esteem is more important than showing respect to elders.

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No matter the circumstance, I don't think it's ever appropriate for a 17 year old boy to ever use foul language towards an adult in his 40's or 50's.  I don't read or respond to Buickman's posts because his posts bore me, but no kid should talk like that to an adult.  I guess young people are taught that their self esteem is more important than showing respect to elders.

Respect goes both ways. I would consider Northstar very mature, especially for his age. I think it is appropriate.

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GM'S Rick Wagoner: We can do it

'The future of the company is held in balance by the actions that we all take in a relatively short period of time.'

Wagoner occupies the hottest seat in corporate America, a 53-year-old GM "lifer" under fire for decades of decline by the world's largest carmaker.

Link: http://www.detnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/artic.../604050402/1148

Well, I'm neutral on Wagoner because I don't even BEGIN to understand the full workings of a corporation like GM and can't make a legitimite judgement about Wagoner as a result.....

However, I'm wondering if the fact he's a "53-year-old GM LIFER" is at all significant?

GM is the ONLY career experience Wagoner has.....he's never worked for any other corporation. GM's "old-school" corporate management structure is the ONLY thing he knows....

How do ANY of us know how this simple fact MIGHT provide a serious cloud to his judgement or his ability to lead GM out of the doldrums...?

Just a curious thought that came to me.....

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Well, I'm neutral on Wagoner because I don't even BEGIN to understand the full workings of a corporation like GM and can't make a legitimite judgement about Wagoner as a result.....

However, I'm wondering if the fact he's a "53-year-old GM LIFER" is at all significant?

GM is the ONLY career experience Wagoner has.....he's never worked for any other corporation.  GM's "old-school" corporate management structure is the ONLY thing he knows....

How do ANY of us know how this simple fact MIGHT provide a serious cloud to his judgement or his ability to lead GM out of the doldrums...?

Just a curious thought that came to me.....

One could argue that because he has been in the system for so long that he knows it better than anyone and therefore could see all the advantages/disadvantages to it. I do appreciate that while you have worked for GM and others in the industry you know that your experience is not 100% better than everyone and that your knowledge may not be complete.

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No matter the circumstance, I don't think it's ever appropriate for a 17 year old boy to ever use foul language towards an adult in his 40's or 50's.  I don't read or respond to Buickman's posts because his posts bore me, but no kid should talk like that to an adult.  I guess young people are taught that their self esteem is more important than showing respect to elders.

Um...Northstar is 18. An adult. So chill out with the "boy" comments.

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The Peter Principle: The theory that successful members of a hierarchical organization (such as, say, a business like GM) are eventually promoted to their highest level of competence, after which further promotion raises them to a level at which they are incompetent.

Anyone care to take a gander at buickman's level of incompetence?

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