Board ties may pay off, says GM’s CEO

General Motors CEO Dan Akerson recently made a call to the CEO of Freescale Semiconductor, the world’s second-largest supplier of automotive computer chips.

There’s nothing much unusual about that. Automakers worldwide have been scrambling to secure a supply of chips since production at Freescale and its rival, Renesas Electronics, was crippled by last month’s earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

But Akerson had an inside track.

Before taking the helm at GM last September, Akerson was on Freescale’s board of directors. He saw an opportunity to leverage a personal business relationship to help GM out of a potential bind.

“We can’t rely on one source. We can’t tie our future to one solution,” Akerson said of GM’s chip supply. “So I picked up the phone, I called the CEO of Freescale and I said, ‘I know you make chips of this type.’”

Akerson and Freescale CEO Rich Beyer discussed the chip maker’s products and the possibility of supplying GM, Akerson said during an industry event ahead of the New York auto show.

“We came up with a solution,” Akerson said. “So we have a two-track solution if this becomes a problem for us.”

Now, whether this contact really gives GM an inside track to source scarce computer chips is unknown. Akerson didn’t say what, if any, agreement was made. A Freescale spokesman declined to say whether the phone call produced any results, saying in an e-mail, “We don’t provide supply details on the specifics of our customer relationships.”

But for Akerson, the call helps to validate one of his big thrusts since becoming CEO last September. He thinks GM historically has been too insular, and he’s pushing his execs to get out and serve on other corporate boards.

“People serving on outside boards have relationships and solutions,” Akerson said after relaying the anecdote of his call to Freescale. “They’re getting outside perspectives on how different managements attack different problems.”

In other words: Inside GM, a little outside perspective can’t hurt. And it just may help you out of a bind.

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