DETROIT -- Theodore Solso, who will become nonexecutive chairman of General Motors in January, is a former CEO of engine maker Cummins Inc., an environmental advocate who heads the board of directors at a nonprofit university in Central America, and one of most recent additions to GM’s board.
In his 12 years as CEO and chairman of Cummins, Solso doubled sales, regained the company’s investment-grade credit rating and reduced its debt. He promoted more widespread adoption of clean-diesel engines and greatly expanded Cummins’ operations in China, India and Brazil.
He retired at the end of 2011, capping a nearly 40-year career with Cummins. In 2010, MarketWatch named Solso one of the five best CEOs of the decade, along with Steve Jobs of Apple and the leaders of Amazon.com, Starbucks and Google.
“From the beginning, Tim was genuine and eager to make things happen,” Joe Loughrey, a retired Cummins president who worked with Solso since the early 1970s, told Marketwatch. “He really has great instincts, and I always regarded him as someone I would be happy to take direction from.”
Solso, 66, who goes by Tim, also appeared several times on an annual list compiled by Automotive News of the highest paid executives at publicly traded automotive companies. But he also has said money is only one of the factors by which he judges a company’s success.
“You are here for a period of time, and you’re a steward of the institution,” MarketWatch quoted Solso as saying. “Your obligation is to make it a better place when you leave than it was when you got here.”
Solso joined GM’s board in June 2012. He has served on the board of directors at Ball Corp., which makes packaging for the food and beverage industries, since 2003 and became its lead independent director this year.
He is president of the board of EARTH University, a private institution in Costa Rica that offers an undergraduate program in agricultural sciences and natural resources.
Solso was hired by Cummins immediately after earning an MBA from Harvard Business School in 1971. He received a psychology degree in 1969 from Indiana’s DePauw University, where he was a classmate of former Vice President Dan Quayle. A 2010 story by DePauw’s student newspaper quoted another classmate as recalling that Quayle and Solso engaged in “some spirited debates” on political matters.