Dan Akerson, who retired as chief executive of GM on Wednesday, urged his replacement and others at the No.1 US automaker to avoid the decades of short-term thinking that led to its 2009 bankruptcy.
Akerson, who was replaced yesterday 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.
He also said he is “optimistic” about the largest U.S. automaker’s struggling European brand, Opel as its market share rose in Europe for the first time in 14 years in 2013.
“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 said.
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.
“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.
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.