The Akerson Effect

Photograph by Jenny Risher

In 2011, Dan Akerson held the “new” GM’s first annual shareholders meeting in Detroit. It was the first shareholders meeting at GM in Detroit since 1990, a highly symbolic — not to mention financially practical — choice. Here are some of his other moves.

• In a visible vote of confidence, Akerson bought about $940,000 in GM stock when things were still quite rocky in 2012.

• Under Akerson’s watch, GM has put great emphasis on efficient vehicles, such as the diesel Chevrolet Cruze, which can get nearly 50 miles per gallon. The company has also made a clear and unwavering commitment to the Chevy Volt. Akerson made the mistake early on of publicly sharing his overly aggressive sales projections for the Volt. Industry observers saw this as a sign of his industry inexperience. (“I was a witless fool,” Akerson admitted in retrospect). In August 2013, GM slashed the Volt’s price from about $40,000 to under $35,000. Akerson now aims to have 500,000 electrified vehicles on the road by 2017.

• GM has unveiled some exciting new models under Akerson, including the seventh-generation Corvette, as well as the redesigned Chevy Silverado, GMC Sierra, Chevy Impala, and Buick Encore. It’s also rolled out the Cadillac ELR — GM’s first luxury extended-range electric car.

• Akerson and other auto industry leaders have publicly called on President Obama to formulate a national energy plan. He’s also been a vocal proponent of natural-gas-powered automobiles and more use of natural gas in general, despite the predicted backlash from Big Oil.

• Akerson wanted to renew and even re-engineer management/labor relations, so he met with Bob King at UAW’s Solidarity House the day before starting his CEO job. There the two hammered out an agreement: UAW members would not get raises, but they would participate in profit sharing. At the same time, there would be no management bonuses unless there were profits. The two have continued to interact on a regular basis.

• Since his appointment, Akerson’s been busy bringing GM’s IT operations back in-house. That General Motors didn’t operate its own IT division stunned Akerson as much as the corporate suite showers. GM has since committed to building two data centers, one in Warren and another in Milford, Michigan, to replace the 23 data centers GM formerly used, most managed by other companies.

• Akerson emphasizes that the future of sales rests to no small degree in spoiling drivers with the likes of Smartphone technology; to bring the wireless world to the driver is to keep the driver in GM vehicles. The company, under Akerson, has moved to address problems with their vehicles quickly, as it
did with the interior of the Chevy Malibu.

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