GM must look for leaders and their successors
The recent round of executive churn at General Motors is a troubling signal that three years after emerging from bankruptcy and two years after CEO Dan Akerson took the helm, the company is still struggling to solidify its command structure and rationalize its operational order of battle.
GM simultaneously is looking for a leader for its ailing Opel unit in Europe and a successor to Joel Ewanick as global marketing boss.
When the latest departures were revealed, a GM spokesman was quick to say the automaker has a deep bench, suggesting there wouldn't be a problem finding replacements. In both situations, Opel and marketing, there are interim solutions. But in neither instance is there an obvious internal candidate who can step up and do the job. One may yet emerge, though the company admits it will consider external candidates.
A key function for the management of any institution is to perpetuate itself. Successful companies understand the value of cultivating talent, teaching, grooming and nurturing the next generation of leaders. Understanding an organization's culture and sharing tribal knowledge are critical to a consistent level of decision-making and the successful attainment of a company's goals.
Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Group, to name just two Detroit companies once in situations similar to GM's position, have demonstrated how to rebuild with successful -- though different -- management structures.
Ford CEO Alan Mulally, for example, has built his team around one mission and backfilled that team with talented potential successors. Recently, when there were high-level departures, candidates were at the ready to jump in and follow Mulally's plan. Across town, Sergio Marchionne has moved talent between the Chrysler and Fiat organizations to build a joint management structure that concisely reports to him.
At GM, planning appears incomplete.
A company with as many employees and as much talent as GM should be capable of building a leadership team with clear successors at every level. It will be necessary if GM is to rebuild for the long haul.