GM CEO Akerson defends tenure as his exit nears

Mon Dec 16, 2013 4:51pm EST
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By Bill Trott

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Dan Akerson, who will step down as General Motors Co's (GM.N: Quote) chief executive next month, on Monday defended his tenure leading the No. 1 U.S. automaker and said his successor will have to build on the turnaround that he guided.

In one of his final appearances as CEO, Akerson celebrated the exit last week of the U.S. Treasury as a shareholder more than four years after the automaker's bankruptcy restructuring and $49.5 billion federal bailout. He also told reporters that the depressed European auto market is now "starting to show life."

But the 39-day "quick rinse" bankruptcy only allowed GM to fix its balance sheet and the company is still in the "early chapters" of its comeback story, he said, adding that his successor, product development chief Mary Barra, will not have an easy job continuing GM's success.

"We had to remedy decades of poor decisions and indecisions and 'no decisions' that started to pile up in the 1970s and '80s like so much rotting firewood," Akerson said in prepared remarks at the National Press Club in Washington. "We have been fixing the plane while it's in the air."

GM said last week that Akerson will step down in January and be succeeded by Barra, the auto industry's first woman CEO.

Akerson assumed control of GM shortly before its autumn 2010 reintroduction as a public company and steered GM's return to profitability following the bailout. The U.S. Treasury initially inherited a 60.8 percent stake in GM, which critics of the bailout dubbed "Government Motors."

GM at the time faced out-of-control costs, wasteful complexity and diminished quality, and had lost sight of its customers, Akerson said. His goal was to restore the company's reputation, transform operations and put the customer as the focus in every decision made.

"The end of the 'Government Motors' era has cleared the runway," Akerson said.   Continued...

Dan Akerson, CEO of General Motors, speaks at the Boston College Chief Executives' Club of Boston luncheon in Boston, Massachusetts June 13, 2013. REUTERS/Brian Snyder