When Rick Wagoner got the nod as the next CEO of General Motors, he was handed an opportunity to choose the path that GM will take for the next couple of decades.
Wagoner, 47, has some unique talents and a broad base of experience.
He ran a multibillion-dollar enterprise early in his career and has seen most of the challenges and opportunities that face GM.
When Wagoner becomes CEO June 1, he will be able to promote and place executives who will make the difference between a good company and a great one.
Wagoner says that executives on the financial staff have been able to run important parts of the corporation at relatively early ages, as he did, and then return to the financial department. That type of opportunity hasn't been available to executives in other departments, which gives the finance staffs a real advantage.
That must change.
In a car company, the emphasis must be on the product. Everything and everyone must support the process of engineering and designing great vehicles.
There was a time at General Motors when there was a real balance between finance and product.
When Pete Estes was president and Tom Murphy was chairman, there was a good relationship between the 'car guy' and the 'finance guy.' Each realized the importance of product and business working together.
In that era, GM had a dominant market share, and some of its biggest concerns involved the threat of antitrust activity by the federal government. GM hasn't had those worries for quite some time.
Not too long ago - in the early 1990s - GM's future was seriously in doubt. At that time, a whole cadre of finance executives was promoted to stop the hemorrhaging.
They succeeded, and GM impressed Wall Street as the emphasis shifted from market dominance to shareholder value.
But market share and shareholder value should be in harmony, not conflict.
Rick Wagoner is a very talented executive with a lot of experience, and he'll need it as CEO.
As top executives retire, it will be telling to see the type and caliber of executives that Wagoner chooses to replace them. Those choices will make a difference during the next couple decades, and Wagoner understands what he has to do.