GM bailout payback to take several years: CEO

DETROIT Thu Sep 16, 2010 11:07am EDT

Dan Akerson stands with the 2011 Chevrolet Volt electric vehicle with extended range at General Motors headquarters in Detroit, Michigan, August 31, 2010. REUTERS/John F. Martin/General Motors/Handout

Dan Akerson stands with the 2011 Chevrolet Volt electric vehicle with extended range at General Motors headquarters in Detroit, Michigan, August 31, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/John F. Martin/General Motors/Handout

DETROIT (Reuters) - General Motors Co GM.UL is determined to pay back taxpayers as quickly as possible, but the process could take "several years," GM Chief Executive Dan Akerson said on Thursday.

Paying back the government all at once would be "unrealistic," Akerson said in his first meeting with reporters since becoming CEO two weeks ago.

Akerson declined to comment directly on GM's plans for an IPO because of U.S. securities regulations.

The IPO could come within about two months, people involved in the process have said, and would allow the U.S. government to begin to reduce its stake in the automaker and allow GM to start to shed the stigma of a government bailout.

Akerson, a longtime telecommunications industry executive who was head of buyouts at The Carlyle Group private equity firm, said he wanted to build a "culture of speed" at GM, which has been criticized for moving too slowly to make changes.

"We need to have an attacking culture, not a defending culture," said Akerson, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and former Navy officer.

He said GM needed to anticipate more during the development process where its rivals were heading with their competing vehicles, to get ahead in quality and build sales momentum.

Akerson was named GM's fourth chief executive in an 18-month period during a shake-up in August when former CEO Ed Whitacre stepped down to clear the way for a longer-serving CEO to guide the company through its upcoming IPO.

Speaking at GM's Detroit headquarters, Akerson said he intends to steer GM through a period of potential growth and was looking for a house in the Detroit area.

"I don't see myself as transitional," he said.

Akerson also said he was not contemplating more management changes at the automaker after a tumultuous period in which the company has turned over top managers in its finance, marketing and vehicle development operations.

"I like the team that's on the field," Akerson said.

Akerson was named to GM's board in July 2009 by the U.S. Treasury after the automaker emerged from a government-funded bankruptcy that left the government with a nearly 61 percent stake.

The government's ownership of GM has not changed the way it does business, Akerson said, adding that he updates Ron Bloom -- the Obama administration official in charge of the auto bailout -- every few weeks by telephone.

"We keep them informed, I do it personally," he said.

Akerson, a Republican who supported Sen. John McCain's presidential bid, said GM aims to return the taxpayer money.

While GM has faced a backlash from the bailout and has been criticized for becoming a ward of the state as "government motors," Akerson said many people had approached him to let him know they also wanted the GM turnaround to succeed.

"I don't see where there's this patina of government motors but that's OK with me," he said.

Separately, Akerson said he was open to discuss the potential for profit-sharing with the United Auto Workers union in contract talks that begin next year.

UAW President Bob King has said the union would look to win back some of the concessions it granted to GM and other U.S. automakers during the industry downturn over the past five years.

Akerson is expected to become chairman of GM at the end of the year.

(Reporting by Kevin Krolicki; Editing by Maureen Bavdek)