Whitacre: ‘This ain’t the old GM’
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.”