Anyone who expected new General Motors CEO Dan Akerson to take a low-key approach to running the company will likely be in for a surprise. The new chief executive, who took the reins at GM barely a week ago, has already come out swinging, warning that the carmaker has to “get better,” and “be on the attack.”
Akerson also made it clear that despite the $50 billion in federal aid approved largely by the Obama Administration, he is a died-in-the-wool Republican.
The chief executive, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, held his first meeting with company employees alongside Ed Whitacre, who stepped down as CEO and handed control of GM to Akerson on September 1st. Whitacre stays on as Chairman of the Board until December 31st, when Akerson gains that title, as well.
“We need to be on the attack,” Akerson said during the session, which was telecast to employees around the company. Noting that GM has made significant gains since it emerged from bankruptcy in July 2009, the new CEO stressed that, “We’re good right now, but we’ve got to get a lot better.”
While his predecessor had been cautious and general positive in his public comments about the Obama Administration, Akerson was blunt and anything but upbeat, criticizing the current occupant of the White House and, in response to an employee question, stating, “I vote Republican.”
A GM board member since July 2009, Akerson backed up his affiliation with a $2,500 donation to Obama’s rival in the last presidential election, John McCain, along with another $28,500 for the Republican National Committee. The irony is that the RNC strongly opposed the General Motors bailout.
Akerson will soon have the chance to cut his ties to the administration. Last month, GM formally filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission for permission to hold its much-anticipated IPO. While final details haven’t been released, the automaker is expected to stage the stock sale shortly after the upcoming mid-term Congressional elections.
Many analysts believe Whitacre’s decision to hurriedly step down was triggered by the belief that Akerson can do a better job of encouraging potential investors. Despite the maker’s two strong quarterly profits, so far this year, there are plenty of uncertainties about GM’s future. And the maker will be demanding a hefty premium for its stock. To recover its investment, which gave it a 60.1% stake in GM, the U.S. Treasury would need to get at least $113 a share in an IPO.
A seemingly innocuous question from an employee provided Akerson a chance to lay his guiding principles out in the open. When presented with a homework problem the employee’s son had, the CEO said he’d advise the child to, “go back and check and make sure you’ve done it absolutely right.” But Akerson also stressed that, “Reputation is what others see and character is what God sees.”