DETROIT -- When former General Motors Europe President Michael Burns becomes Dana Corp.'s CEO on March 1, he faces a formidable task.
The Toledo, Ohio, USA, supplier has struggled for the past three years to become a smaller, simpler, more profitable company focused on axles, frames and commercial vehicles.
And though Dana managed to survive a hostile takeover attempt last year, Burns still must prove to shareholders that they are better off with Dana as an independent company.
That won't be easy. Dana's sterling credit ratings are a thing of the past, and net-profit margins have been heading downward since 1998.
And now Burns, just the second chief executive in the company's 100-year history to be hired from the outside, is displacing a man who has spent 34 years at Dana -- affable acting president Bill Carroll.
"The hiring of Burns from the outside is another sign of the new Dana," said industry analyst Robert Hinchliffe of UBS in New York.
Dana's board is counting on Burns for the technological savvy and operational acumen to continue Dana's turnaround.
Burns' work in Europe won praise from GM CEO Rick Wagoner: "Mike has led a major restructuring of our European operations, which has made significant progress under very difficult circumstances."
Some have described Burns as aggressively low-key. That will play well at Dana, said Hinchliffe, because "Dana is low-key and they need some aggressiveness."
Burns said Dana Chairman Glen Hiner, 69, wanted someone to bring "new experiences into Dana, to help Dana make the next move."
Making a move on GM would help. Ford and DaimlerChrysler account for a combined 28 percent of Dana's business. GM is below 10 percent. At $27.5 billion in sales in 2003, GM Europe is triple the size of Dana. Through the first nine months of 2003, Dana had sales of $7.4 billion.