DETROIT -- Dan Akerson's tenure as General Motors chairman and CEO began suddenly and will end almost as abruptly.
Akerson got the job in 2010 by virtue of being the only one of the board of directors to volunteer when they were caught off guard by Ed Whitacre's decision to step down months before the initial public offering. Akerson, whose wife found out she has cancer, will leave next month, nearly a year sooner than he had been planning.
"He came in right at a very precarious time," Mary Barra, who will replace Akerson Jan. 15, told employees at a town hall-style meeting last week, "right before we needed to do an IPO and really instilled the teamwork, the leadership qualities and the spirit of winning -- winning whether it's quality, whether it's great products, whether it's financial results."
GM, after more than three years with Akerson at the helm, is in significantly better shape, though some may argue that the seeds for the improvement were sown before he arrived in Detroit.
The former U.S. Navy officer and telecommunication executive inherited a company that had been handed a $50 billion federal bailout and cleansed of its debt in bankruptcy court. His task was to steer the automaker on a path that would keep it from slipping back into bad habits.
"This is a great company again," Akerson told employees last week at the meeting. "I always knew I would be viewed somewhat as a transition CEO. We had to right the ship, get it under way.
"Now," he said, turning to Barra, "take it across the ocean."
Besides his penchant for maritime metaphors, here are five aspects of Akerson's reign that he will be remembered for in Detroit, the halls of the U.S. Treasury and GM dealerships around the world.