By Ben Klayman and Deepa Seetharaman
DETROIT Jan 15 Dan Akerson, who retired as
chief executive of General Motors Co, on Wednesday, urged
his replacement and others at the No.1 U.S. automaker to avoid
the decades of short-term thinking that led to its 2009
Akerson, who was replaced on Wednesday by the industry's
first female CEO, Mary Barra, told a roomful of industry
executives that GM was no longer "fragile" and has the strength
to succeed, but needs to maintain changes such as a competitive
labor cost structure as it moves forward.
"That's one of the things I tried to stress: When we make a
decision today let's make it and ask what are the successors
going to think of us in 2043, when we look out 30 years," he
Akerson said at an Automotive News conference held in
conjunction with the Detroit auto show that the seeds of GM's
bankruptcy were sewn in the 1960s, '70s and '80s. He took the
CEO job in 2010 before GM's re-emergence as a public company
because he believed it could be turned around.
The automotive industry in the past was run by executives
with bigger-than-life personalities, but Akerson said he never
tried to mirror them.
"I want to be able to look back at this company in 2020,
2025 and 2030 when I'm really old and say I was part of that
success," he said, "and I hope Mary is gangbusters successful
and my name fades to black."
Barra was treated like a star during the early days of the
auto show this week with media cameras shadowing her every move,
but Akerson said she would not let the attention distract her.
"She's a well-balanced, very self-aware individual," he
said. "She'll do fine. She's not going to somehow lose it
because her picture is on the front page of a magazine."
Some critics have pointed out that the U.S. government ended
up with a $10 billion loss on its $49.5 billion bailout of GM,
but Akerson pointed out that the company has invested that much
in plants and jobs in the country.
Akerson, who retired earlier than expected to spend time
with his wife who is fighting cancer, said his goal when he took
the CEO job was to make the company profitable again, get it
back into the Standard & Poor's 500 index, repay the government,
see the U.S. Treasury exit its stake, and reinstate a dividend.
GM completed that list with the Tuesday announcement it would
pay its first dividend in six years.
Akerson said GM's U.S. pension deficit was now about a
quarter of the $26 billion it was when he took over.
He also said he was optimistic about the money-losing Opel
unit in Europe, which gained market share in that region last
year for the first time in 14 years. GM has said it is targeting
a return to break-even financials in that business by
The former CEO said GM still needs to build its brand image,
suggesting if a BMW logo was put on the Chevrolet Impala sedan
it would be worth $10,000 to $20,000 more.
Akerson also said GM needed to maintain competitive labor
costs in North America. He had been asked whether GM needed to
retain the two-tier wage structure, that pays newer hires at a
far lower pay level, for its blue-collar workforce.
His comments come ahead of 2015 labor contract talks between
the United Auto Workers union and the U.S. Detroit automakers.