DETROIT -- As Dan Akerson nears his two-year mark as General Motors CEO on Sept. 1, executive upheaval has emerged as a hallmark of his tenure. And more may be coming.
The turnover -- including last week's ouster of marketing chief Joel Ewanick -- has accelerated in Akerson's second year, while GM's U.S. market share slipped, losses in Europe widened and GM's stock price languished. The management flux has created an air of uncertainty -- and an undercurrent of fear, some insiders say -- that impedes progress.
Asked last fall whether he was happy with his executive team after a rookie year also marked by management churn, Akerson said he thought "a lot of the turmoil" was behind him.
"We're now settling in as a team," he told Automotive News in October.
Since then, Akerson has twice replaced the head of GM's troubled Opel European unit and installed new global heads of manufacturing, vehicle quality, r&d, information technology and OnStar, among others.
An even deeper shake-up could be in the works. Akerson is laying the groundwork for a major overhaul of GM's organization chart.
A person with knowledge of the plan confirms Akerson wants to break apart GM's regional divisions -- North America, South America, Europe and International Operations -- and give broader authority to the global heads of manufacturing, purchasing and other functions, a change that could take several years to implement.
Akerson hinted at the change in June, telling The Wall Street Journal that he envisions running GM's two most important brands, Chevrolet and Cadillac, as autonomous divisions with global presidents.
Akerson's published comments caught many on his executive team off guard because he hadn't discussed the plan with them in depth, the source says.
After the latest executive moves, Akerson, 63, finds himself buffeted by questions about GM's direction and whether his fluid executive team can overcome the company's hidebound culture and solve entrenched problems such as chronic losses in Europe.
"Does GM face challenges of leadership or culture?" Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas asked in a note to investors last week. "We believe both."
Executive overhauls under new CEOs are common -- especially at a company emerging from bankruptcy and with the deep dysfunction that plagued the old GM. Some analysts say the frequent shake-ups are preferable to the blind eye that GM execs used to cast on incompetence.
Mark Reuss, GM's North America president, says GM critics will point to just about any management change as a sign of turmoil. In fact, he says, the moves usually are "part of a broader structure that's positioning us for success long term."
He cites a recent shake-up that elevated former Chevrolet sales chief Alan Batey to a newly created spot atop Reuss' sales team. It will allow better coordination on retail strategies among GM's four brands as the company readies one of its busiest vehicle-launch schedules in its history, Reuss says.
The problem is that Akerson's executive shuffling has accelerated just as GM should be hitting a sweet spot in its recovery, say pundits and some insiders.