Off the Cuff

General Motors CEO Goes Undercover

Off the Cuff

“I went in with my daughter one time on a Sunday afternoon to buy a Chevrolet. And I was kind of surprised, what I saw. Literally, I'm interested in buying a car and there were seven salespeople, six of them watching the football game,” Dan Akerson’s the chairman and CEO of General Motors told “Off The Cuff”.

“This young man came over to us and-what a breath of fresh air. I mean, he saw an opportunity, and he was going to sell that car and he wasn't going to let us get out of that dealership that day.” Akerson was so impressed, he bought another car from the young dealer and had it shipped to his second home in Florida. Since then, he said, most of GM’s salespeople have attended training to try “to amp the game up”.

Akerson first joined GM in July 2009 as a member of the Board of Directors while the company was in bankruptcy. Akerson said he still goes undercover into dealerships, but less frequently now. “It was easier when I first took the job because not all the dealers knew who I was. And I would, in a sense, mystery shop. But now it's a little bit different. I'll walk in, they'll say, ‘well, jeez, that's the guy with GM,’ and I don't think there'd be six out of seven people watching television.“

The new GM went public in November 2009. Akerson became CEO in 2010, succeeding Ed Whitacre. The Treasury invested a total of $49.5b into GM and is expected to have a substantial loss on that investment.

Akerson, a U.S. Navy veteran, said he joined GM out of a “sense of service”. “When you go to the service academies, it's about-what you can do to make a difference in your country's life? A call to action within our organization at General Motors is: let's restore this company. Let's transform it to what it once was. It is very much like being back in the service. It's a lot safer but it's just as important.”

“We were given a second chance,” he continued, referring to the bailout, “we're not going to get a third. And we have to get it right this time, and we have to manage it for the long-term.”

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In 2012, the Treasury Department capped Akerson’s total compensation at $9 million. Akerson and other GM executives have said the government's pay restrictions hinder their ability to recruit and retain talented employees. In February 2013, GM denied reports that it had asked for a $2 million pay increase for the CEO.

“I came to GM for reasons that didn't include money,” Akerson said, “I'm paid adequately and I think the team at General Motors understands that this transformation transcends money. We're here to rebuild a good company back to be a great company. It is what it is. Let’s just move on and someday monetary rewards will come. But right now the reward is being part of something bigger than yourself.”

"I think consumer confidence is improved, but it's somewhat tentative," he said. "I think as the economy progresses, hopefully we see fewer and less strident policy differences on a national leadership point of view. It seemed like every 60 to 90 days, it was some cliff or some crisis - that undermines confidence," he continued. "People want to know, 'is the economy going to go forward? Do I have a job?' Purchasing cars, trucks, crossovers, it's a huge investment. People aren't going to make that as lightly as they did, say, prior to the Great Recession where it seemed like there were unending horizons. Now people are looking for what could possibly go wrong, instead of what could possibly go right."

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