Former GM CEO urges new leaders to avoid past mistakes

Wed Jan 15, 2014 11:29pm EST
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By Ben Klayman and Deepa Seetharaman

DETROIT (Reuters) - Dan Akerson, who retired as chief executive of General Motors Co (GM.N: Quote), on Wednesday, urged his replacement and others at the No.1 U.S. automaker to avoid the decades of short-term thinking that led to its 2009 bankruptcy.

Akerson, who was replaced on Wednesday 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.

"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.

The automotive industry in the past was run by executives with bigger-than-life personalities, but Akerson said he never tried to mirror them.

"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.

"She's a well-balanced, very self-aware individual," he said. "She'll do fine. She's not going to somehow lose it because her picture is on the front page of a magazine."   Continued...

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