Advice for Akerson: Show a little faith in your bench
Peter Brown is the publisher of Automotive News.
Look at the unfilled holes in General Motors' top management. Add to that the executives who are brand-new to the car business. You might then conclude that CEO Dan Akerson is like the football coach who looks at his bench and concludes he's got a bunch of scrubs.
Lobbyist Robert Ferguson's appointment to lead Cadillac globally is the latest in Akerson's string of nonautomotive hirings. Ferguson, one of the telecom people hired by CEO-for-a-moment Ed Whitacre, has been GM's top global lobbyist for less than three years. He's charged with marketing Cadillac as a global brand. I wish him luck.
Meanwhile, Akerson has been unable to find anybody at GM to run Opel (vacant job for three months), purchasing (vacant for a month) or marketing (2 1/2 months). All have interim leaders.
Two possibilities: 1) GM has a weak bench; 2) Akerson doesn't appreciate automotive people -- or at least GM's automotive people.
Meanwhile, GM is doing fine in China and North America, selling cars and trucks engineered and designed by the old GM. Might some people from the old GM have the ability to fill some of those jobs?
Akerson elevated human resources boss Mary Barra, an engineer, to lead product development. A critical task for HR, of course, is to groom people to take over. But if GM is grooming people, it's not actually promoting them.
Former Boeing honcho Alan Mulally proved that you don't have to be a car guy to lead a car company. But Mulally didn't bring in a bunch of aeronautic execs. He kept the Ford Motor Co. management and hired only a couple of automotive stars such as Jim Farley from Toyota and Ken Czubay from JM Family Enterprises.
Instead of churning outside people, Mulally changed the value system and operating procedures with mostly the same Ford people. Mulally's Ford quickly turned itself around.
Akerson's telecom experience may be a qualification to lead GM. But the recipe for automotive success may not be more telecom execs. It's certainly easy to criticize the dysfunctional old GM. But that's not the same thing as fixing it.
So my unsolicited advice to Dan Akerson: Look at your bench, your farm team, with fresh eyes. If you don't see anybody you like in AAA, then take a look at your AA team, as Sergio Marchionne did for young talent at both Fiat and Chrysler.
And if you have to bring in some free agents, get them from winning teams in the same sport. The New York Yankees don't hire big hitters from the PGA tour.
You can reach Peter Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.