DETROIT, Jan 23 (Reuters) - General Motors Co’s North American president, Mark Reuss, was considered for the top job at the U.S. automaker in 2010 before his lack of seasoning led the board to the current chief executive, Dan Akerson, according to an excerpt from a forthcoming book by GM’s former CEO, Ed Whitacre.
As GM, which restructured in bankruptcy with the help of a $50 billion U.S. taxpayer bailout, moved toward its fall 2010 initial public offering, Whitacre told the board he would not continue as CEO. His idea for his replacement was Reuss, according to the excerpt published on Wednesday by Fortune magazine.
“Mark had zoomed up the executive chain in record time; he went from midlevel engineer to the No. 2 person in the company in the space of a year, more or less,” Whitacre said of Reuss. “The plus was that Mark was showing a lot of poise and management potential. The downside was that he hadn’t been in the job long enough to prove himself as a CEO.”
Whitacre’s book, “American Turnaround: Reinventing AT&T and GM and the Way We Do Business in the USA,” is scheduled to be published early next month.
GM announced Whitacre’s exit in August 2010, and Akerson assumed leadership of the Detroit company the following month.
Reuss declined to comment on Whitacre’s book.
GM said the comments were Whitacre’s and the company was focused on the future.
“General Motors is now a company guided by new leadership and employees who value the customer first in everything we do,” company spokesman Greg Martin said in an email.
“We’re grateful for Ed’s leadership during a difficult transition for the company,” he added. “It’s important that we not forget the lessons of our recent past, but it’s even more important that we keep our full attention and energy on building great cars and trucks and creating sustained profitability and shareholder value.”
Reuss, 49, is perceived by some Wall Street analysts and GM insiders as a potential heir apparent to Akerson. Other possible successors are Vice Chairman Steve Girsky, Chief Financial Officer Dan Ammann and global product development chief Mary Barra.
Akerson, 64, has not given a timeline for his retirement.
Whitacre said GM’s board in 2010 discussed its options, weighing the idea of a nonexecutive chairman working with Reuss or another candidate while they gathered more seasoning on the job. The board was split, however.
”Some people thought a nonexecutive chairman wasn’t a bad idea,“ Whitacre said. ”Other people really didn’t care. A few didn’t like the idea at all.
“One thing everybody agreed on: Mark had a lot of potential,” Whitacre added. “The only concern was his short time in the job. If we asked him to step into the CEO’s job, and it didn’t work out, that would be a disaster for Mark - and an even bigger disaster for GM. The company needed stability. The revolving door in the CEO’s suite had to stop. At this point Dan Akerson volunteered to do the job.”
Whitacre said Akerson wanted to be chairman and CEO from the start.
“He had no interest in being a nonexecutive chairman, or a split title. I could certainly understand, because that’s what I would have wanted if I’d been in his shoes,” Whitacre said.
“When Dan put his hand up, that took care of the problem,” Whitacre said. “Not very elegant, I will admit. But that’s how it played out.”