Lighting a fire under GM

New chairman draws from AT&T experience, prods company to move faster

By Kim Peterson Nov 11, 2009 2:57PM
Car on highway © Brand X/SuperStockThere's a new sheriff at General Motors, and he's itching to get going.

Ed Whitacre, 68, is chairman of the board at the automaker, and he's pushing the company to move faster. Executives bring him stacks of PowerPoint presentations to pore over, but he pushes them aside.

Less talk, more action. At least, that's how he paints his leadership style in an interview with Bloomberg.

"We need to hurry every chance we get," he told the news service. "This is about a turnaround, this is not business as usual. This is about a new GM, a new way of doing business."

The Obama administration put Whitacre in charge of the board after GM came out of bankruptcy. Whitacre, 68, was formerly chief executive and chairman of AT&T (T).

He's pushing the company to get profitable sooner and start repaying the $50 million in bankruptcy loans from the government. He thinks the repayments could begin as early as this year.

Can Whitacre prod the company into recovery? He certainly got things moving at AT&T when he ran the company. In the 17 years that he was chief executive there, the company spent almost $200 billion on acquisitions, Bloomberg reported.

"This is probably the only way it could be done in a company like GM," a Harvard business professor told Bloomberg. "Having somebody who is lighting a fire, feels like a game changer to people inside the company."

Tags: GM
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