GM also has a new chairman image

Besides the newly appointed CEO Mary Barra, GM decided to also appoint a new chairman, Tim Solso, ex chairman and CEO of diesel engine manufacturer Cummins Inc.

The new chairman of General Motors Co. is no stranger to the life-and-death struggles of the American automobile industry, nor to the growth opportunities countries such as China and Brazil represent for companies like GM.

Solso, who was tapped to become the next chairman of GM by the automaker’s board of directors over the weekend, was chairman and CEO of diesel engine manufacturer Cummins Inc. during the dark days of 2008 and 2009. He also is the man credited with leading Cummins’ expansion into the emerging markets of Asia and South America.

“He’s got a very rich set of experiences,” said attorney Harry Gonso, a partner at Ice Miller LLP, who represented Cummins during much of Solso’s time at the top of the company. “He’s been through some very challenging times.”

Solso, 65, joined Cummins in 1971 after completing his MBA at Harvard University. He was promoted to president and chief operating officer in 1995 and became chairman and CEO in 2000. He retired from Cummins at the end of 2011. He joined GM’s board in June 2012.

David Cole, chairman emeritus of the Center for Automotive Research, said it was a smart move to separate the chairman and CEO jobs at GM, and he said Solso is a good choice for the former.

“Mary is relatively young. She does not have the experience in terms of the board and how to deal with board issues. I think they want to make sure she really focuses on the company internally,” Cole said. “Solso is a good fit for chairman because of his broader experience. Cummins is a large industrial company that makes very complex things. That’s very different than someone who comes out of the tech industry or telecommunications. He can understand the car business.”

Harry Gonso also serves as the president of the Mitch Daniels Leadership Foundation in Indiana, where Cummins is based. The foundation recently named Solso its inaugural Mitch Daniels Leadership Award winner because he exemplifies the leadership qualities it strives to promote, Gonso said.