DETROIT -- Two top priorities of the new General Motors Co. leadership team are repaying money borrowed from the U.S. and Canadian governments and launching an initial public offering of stock, perhaps in 2010.
GM North America President Mark Reuss stopped short of saying GM definitely would meet either of those goals next year, saying only, “We all have that at the top of our minds as what success will look like in 2010.”
In November, GM said it would start repaying its government debt this month. The company owes $6.7 billion to the United States and about $1.4 billion to Canada. GM said it planned to complete the task by the end of 2011 but could repay the amounts as early as June 2010. Those dates could change if the company has an IPO.
Reuss said a meeting Monday with Ed Whitacre, GM's chairman and interim CEO, helped solidify the company's goals, but he wouldn't give any specifics on market share targets. GM board member Stephen Girsky has said the company wants to maintain a “19 percent and change” market share in the United States, about equal to the 19.8 percent share GM had through the first 11 months of this year.
The company wants to return to profitability “as soon as possible,” Reuss said today in a conference call with journalists. Reviving GM starts with creating best-in-class vehicles, he said.
“The only way I know how to solve and stabilize this company for our employees, our customers and the country is to make, build and sell vehicles better than anybody else,” Reuss said.
“We need to focus on being the best -- period. The word ‘competitive' and the words ‘good enough' are all gone from the vocabulary of our employees and need to change to ‘winning,' ‘be the best.' ”
Reuss was GM's engineering boss until being named North American chief Friday, Dec. 4, as part of an executive shakeup announced by Whitacre.
Proven at Holden
Reuss, a GM engineer for most of his career, ran the company's Holden unit in Australia from early 2008 to October of this year. He said he had to prove himself in that role because he was “another American coming in to run Holden.” During GM's bankruptcy this summer, Holden was cut off from GM's funding and had to run itself, Reuss said.
“This was ‘make your own luck, you're a long way from any place else, hope you survive,' ” he said. “Well, we more than survived.”
In the several weeks he headed engineering this fall, Reuss said, he “pretty much reorganized and stabilized the engineering here and prepared us to be great from a product standpoint.”
Reuss said his new boss, who took over when Fritz Henderson resigned as CEO a week ago, is straightforward.
Susan Docherty, GM's vice president of sales, service and marketing, also participated in the call and said Whitacre expects GM employees to perform.
“Even though he does not consider himself an auto expert, he asks great questions,” Docherty said. For instance, Whitacre repeatedly talks with her about an unidentified vehicle that is overstocked.
“He doesn't tell me how to solve it, but he's pretty clear that he expects me to resolve it,” Docherty said.
Whitacre, a former telecommunications executive, is serving as CEO while GM searches for Henderson's replacement. Reuss and Docherty said they had no indication of how long Whitacre planned to stay in his role.
Asked whether he wanted to be CEO, Reuss said: “No comment. No. I'm interested in doing well at what I'm doing.”
GM's U.S. sales fell 32 percent through November. The company hasn't posted a quarterly profit since the second quarter of 2007.
The automaker emerged from bankruptcy after the U.S. government gave it $50 billion in aid. Much of this was converted into a 61 percent equity stake, making the U.S. Treasury Department GM's largest shareholder.
Reuters contributed to this report