DETROIT -- In 2009, Diana Tremblay was in the thick of one of the last battles waged by the old General Motors, as the former labor chief wrangled with the UAW on a contract seen as pivotal to the company's survival.
Now, she's on the front line of what GM CEO Dan Akerson sees as another crucial fight: his bid to boost GM's profit margins by simplifying global operations and eliminating redundant functions that drive up costs.
Last week, Tremblay, 53, was reassigned from her post as GM's top manufacturing executive in North America to lead a newly formed business unit charged with whacking away at the company's bureaucracy. The idea is to wring out nearly $2 billion in cost savings by streamlining everything from human resources to facilities management.
"We have to attack our cost base with vigor that hasn't been seen in this company to date," Akerson said at an investor conference last week.
The move, effective July 1, comes as GM ramps up one of its busiest-ever slates of vehicle launches in North America, including its redesigned full-sized pickups. GM spokeswoman Katie McBride, who said Tremblay was unavailable for an interview, said the launches are going well and that the move is unrelated.
"Diana played a key role in the truck launch," McBride said. Her reassignment in the midst of it "is a reflection of the strong bench" in GM's North American manufacturing ranks. GM said a successor would be named soon.
Tremblay led the UAW negotiations on transformational contracts struck in 2005, 2007 and 2009. The 2007 pact was seminal, allowing GM to offload its retiree health care costs onto an independent trust to improve its bloated cost structure.
The 2009 contract eliminated the so-called Jobs Bank, which guaranteed idled workers 95 percent of pay and full benefits indefinitely if no other job could be found for them. Eliminating the Jobs Bank helped to all but erase GM's labor-cost gap with the Japanese and other competitors.
"Diana is one of the best, or the best, negotiator I saw in my 45-year career," said former GM manufacturing and labor relations chief Gary Cowger. "Those skills will serve her well in that new role."
Tremblay's new job as vice president of global business services, while perhaps not as high-profile as leading UAW negotiations, is core to Akerson's vision of a leaner, nimbler GM. And it marks a new chapter for one of GM's highest-profile female executives, and her first big assignment outside the realm of manufacturing and labor.
Her new unit eventually will include thousands of employees across finance, human resources, facilities management, real estate and indirect purchasing. The group will manage dozens of common processes across GM that now are done redundantly, with different procedures and computer systems, McBride said.
For instance, each GM division has its own processes for filing expense reports, paying vendors or hiring employees. Tremblay's group will bring those functions under a common system.
She will report to GM CFO Dan Ammann, who is helping Akerson tackle many of the dysfunctional vestiges of the old GM, such as a splintered, outmoded accounting system that recently got an overhaul.
At last week's investor conference, Ammann said Tremblay's unit is targeting a 30 percent reduction in GM's general and administrative costs, which were roughly $6 billion last year. That implies a targeted cost savings of around $1.8 billion a year.
"Every dollar we save is a dollar we can put back into the car," Ammann said, "or it's a dollar we can take to the bottom line."