Former CEO Whitacre: ‘GM is on a nice track’

February 19, 2013
Former CEO Whitacre: ‘GM is on a nice track’

Ed Whitacre Jr., the former CEO of General Motors who led the automaker for a brief but important nine months after bankruptcy, said Monday the company is on the right path and that losses in Europe can be fixed.

Whitacre, in Detroit to sign copies of his book, “American Turnaround: Reinventing AT&T and GM and the Way We Do Business in the USA,” told The Detroit News in a brief interview that he doesn’t follow the company’s daily moves and couldn’t answer what was still broken at GM.

“GM is on a nice track,” he said at the Renaissance Center. “It’s making a lot of money. I think they have good vehicles. … I think they’ve made remarkable progress and I give them a lot of credit, give current management and the employees a lot of credit.”

Whitacre called GM’s losses in Europe a “management problem,” but said they can be corrected. “I think it’s a potentially great franchise to have. We have a great name over there. We build good vehicles and I think it’s a good asset for the company.”

GM lost $1.8 billion in Europe last year; analysts expect it to lose more than $1 billion there this year. GM hopes to break even in Europe by mid-decade.

Last week, GM Chief Financial Officer Dan Ammann said the company was happy with its team in Europe, including Karl-Thomas Neumann, a former Volkswagen executive in China recently named to lead Opel and be GM Europe president.

Whitacre wouldn’t say who he thinks will lead GM after CEO Dan Akerson leaves, though he said he has some ideas. Whitacre wrote in the book that he had wanted GM North America President Mark Reuss to succeed him as CEO in 2009.

The Obama administration in July 2009 named Whitacre chairman of GM, as the automaker came out of bankruptcy. He became CEO in December 2009 after GM’s board fired Fritz Henderson.

Whitacre stepped down in August 2010 because he couldn’t commit to staying at least two years after the company’s initial public stock offering.

Whitacre signed books and shook hands with General Motors employees against a backdrop of Buicks near the entrance to the Renaissance Center’s food court, where Whitacre used to chat with workers.

Whitacre axed a plan to move nearly all GM workers from the Renaissance Center to Warren a week before it was to occur. He wrote that his management team would have been 30 minutes away, that the board had never been told and that Detroit would have taken a “big economic hit.”

On Monday, Whitacre said he is happy to see GM stayed put and reiterated that moving to Warren would have been a mistake and “devastating to Detroit.”

“It makes me feel good and hopefully it makes a lot of employees feel good that we’ve stayed here in the city of Detroit,” he said.

“It’s a symbol of GM. I’m glad we did it.”

Whitacre is touring the country with his new memoir, which chronicles his time at the helm of AT&T and GM.

He planned to sign copies of the book for GM employees at the Warren Tech Center later Monday before heading to California for stops in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Whitacre said he believes the company has a bright future.

“The company has a very bright future,” he said. “I think it’s on the right track. I think it’s doing well. And it’s still cold in Detroit in February.”

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