The arrival of billionaire investor Kirk Kerkorian as a significant General Motors shareholder would give CEO Rick Wagoner a reason to shake up GM and the opportunity he needs to do it - especially if Kerkorian associate Jerry York is looking over Wagoner's shoulder.
It's conventional wisdom that GM is just a couple of high-volume hit cars away from a turnaround because that's how automakers have always pulled themselves out of a rut. And if the new Chevrolet Impala, which goes into production
June 21, is a home run, it may relieve some of the pressure on GM's management.
But it will take more than just a hot-selling Chevy to fix GM's problems in North America, which include but are not limited to hefty health care and pension costs. There also are issues with product development, marketing and GM's corporate culture that must be resolved.
Kerkorian obviously sees value in GM despite its problems, just as he saw value in the old Chrysler Corp. when he became a big Chrysler shareholder 15 years ago. It's up to Wagoner to unlock that value. But to do so, he'll have to look at GM as an outsider and act accordingly.
For inspiration, Wagoner should examine Carlos Ghosn, who successfully rebuilt Nissan Motor Co. Ghosn, an outsider, was able to overhaul Nissan because he established firm, non-negotiable goals and benchmarks. And as an outsider, he dispassionately broke up Nissan's cultural logjams.
Wagoner must do no less at GM.