PHILIP NUSSEL

To Wall Street, Akerson looks like the real deal

Automotive News | November 19, 2010 - 2:34 pm EST

Did anyone notice something in all the hype yesterday about new General Motors CEO Dan Akerson?

Well, in the course of three months, he accomplished something no GM CEO has done in three decades: win respect for GM on Wall Street.

Akerson was granted rock star status all day yesterday on the exchange, and on influential business network CNBC. He sold, really sold, the investment world on the fact that GM really is a different company, and that it really has changed its ways.

As a result, GM’s much-anticipated IPO was, by all accounts, a success -- even though the company still had $29.4 billion in unfunded global pension obligations as of Sept. 30, along with an accounting system that GM says lacks “effective internal controls.”

In all, GM’s list of “risk factors,” in its prospectus for investors, covered 24 pages in painstaking detail. Indeed, the new GM still has fleas, like the old GM. It just has a lot fewer.

But Akerson, CFO Chris Liddell and other senior executives convinced the street that this 102-year-old company was worth the risk, just 16 months after emerging from a government-funded bailout and bankruptcy reorganization.

For years, GM has been led by CEOs like Rick Wagoner, who simply could not change fast enough -- and who failed to convince Wall Street that the business could be turned around. It became painfully obvious when Wagoner couldn’t even get Congress to believe GM could be saved, or that it even should be saved.

Akerson, on the other hand, was a GM outsider until he took over for Ed Whitacre on Sept. 1. And Liddell came from Microsoft. Perhaps these appointments were the biggest reason investors now believe things really have changed at GM.

Philip Nussel is managing editor of autonews.com.Philip Nussel is managing editor of autonews.com.

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