Whi­tacre: ‘This ain’t the old GM’

Austin American-Statesman - - BUSINESSBRIEFING -

Whi­tacre, 68, was in re­tire­ment af­ter a long ca­reer at AT&T Inc. when he was named GM’s chair­man a year ago. He added the CEO ti­tle in De­cem­ber.

He has been quick to make changes at GM, and one of them has been to speed up the in­tro­duc­tion of the Volt.

“It is an im­por­tant car. It is a new technology,” Whi­tacre said. “It is the wave of the fu­ture in this coun­try.”

Other au­tomak­ers also are push­ing green ve­hi­cles. Nis­san Mo­tor Co. plans to roll out its all-elec­tric Leaf by the end of 2010. Ford Mo­tor Co. is ex­pected to be­gin sell­ing an elec­tric ver­sion of its Fo­cus sedan in 2011.

The Volt is only one of the changes Whi­tacre has in­sti­tuted.

“We have re­struc­tured right at the very top. We don’t have any­body that was there be­fore,” he said of the ex­ec­u­tive ranks. “It’s an en­tirely new man­age­ment team a cou­ple of lay­ers down.”

His mes­sage to the rest of the com­pany has been: “Move fast. Make de­ci­sions. You’re em­pow­ered. I want to see some en­tre­pre­neur­ial spirit. You are re­spon­si­ble for this. This ain’t the old GM.”

More work needs to be done, he said. Part of that change is to erase the stigma from last year’s bank­ruptcy and govern­ment bailout.

“We are called Govern­ment Mo­tors by some peo­ple,” Whi­tacre noted. “I hate that term.”

GM posted a first-quar­ter profit — its first in sev­eral years — and has re­paid about $10 bil­lion in govern­ment loans. The com­pany also is lay­ing plans for a pub­lic stock of­fer­ing to buy all or part of the U.S. govern­ment’s re­main­ing $40 bil­lion stake.

Com­pany morale, which was beaten down when Whi­tacre first came to GM, has im­proved con­sid­er­ably this year, he said.

“This is a com­pany that needed sav­ing,” he said. “This is about Amer­ica. This com­pany has ten­ta­cles that reach very far into the econ­omy of the coun­try. It lit­er­ally af­fects mil­lions of peo­ple.”

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