Former GM purchasing chief Andersson making tough calls in Russia

Walking the wide aisles of the Shanghai auto show we ran into Bo Andersson, the former General Motors purchasing titan.

Now CEO of Russia's GAZ Group, Andersson was here to cozy up to potential Chinese commercial vehicle partners, Changan in particular.

How goes it in Russia?

"In my first year I fired 50,000 people," he says, unapologetically. "I had to cut the company in half."

That sounds dangerous, as in dangerous for Bo personally.

"It was," says the ex-Swedish military man.

But GAZ is now in the black. He's taken the old Soviet carmaker out of the car business but he's doing very well with trucks and truck engines. And he is turning GAZ into a contract manufacturer this summer, with deals lined up to build a couple of European passenger cars.

He hints that living in Russia can be a challenge after the privileged atmosphere afforded senior executives in Detroit.

"I'm Swedish so it's not too hard for me," he said. "I don't speak Russian, but I understand it."

Does he keep up with events at his former company?

"I talk to (GM vice-chairman) Steve Girsky," he says, "but I have a full-time job!"

Andersson on the floor of the Shanghai auto show: "I was too tough for Detroit." Photo credit: Richard Johnson

Finally, I ask the irrepressible Bo if he'll work again as an executive in the United States?

"I was too tough for Detroit," he said.

But he misses Detroiters.

"Socially it is very easy to live in Detroit," he said.

Bo was a big man in the Motor City, but he reminds us: "I'm a big man in Russia now."

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