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Reuss in frame to take GM reins

Frontrunner: Former Holden chairman and managing director Mark Reuss is among only a few top GM executives considered a leading candidate to take over the top job at General Motors.

Former Holden boss well placed to succeed GM’s Akerson, who wants ‘a change agent’

General Motors logo21 Nov 2013

By TERRY MARTIN

FORMER Holden chairman and General Motors’ current North America president Mark Reuss is being touted as one of only a handful of executives in line to succeed chief executive Dan Akerson at the top of the US auto giant.

While Mr Akerson is still to announce his retirement plans, the 65-year-old has described the attributes he would look for in a replacement.

“There’s no prototypical CEO,” Mr Akerson told US industry journal Automotive News last week.

“A good leader has to be innately bright, intellectually curious. They have to be a change agent, never satisfied with the status quo.

“I think we do have people here that I think fit that bill,” he said, declining to name them.

“Of course, I’m on the board and I’ll have an opinion. But that’s kind of what I would look for.”

Mr Akerson also said in the interview that he would like to see the next CEO be a calculated risk taker, who is not afraid to make mistakes – and be accountable for them.

“You have to establish accountability and an orientation to risk, recognising that we’re not a fault-free company,” he said.

“Have the humility and audacity to say, ‘I made a mistake’ and back up and go down the other way.”

Apart from Mr Reuss, GM executives believed to be in the running for CEO include chief financial officer Dan Ammann, vice-chairman Steve Girsky and global product development and global purchasing and supply chain chief Mary Barra.

A champion of the Holden brand in Detroit and the son of former GM president Lloyd, Mr Reuss was appointed to the second most powerful position in GM in December 2009, having returned to the US from Australia just a few months earlier to become executive director of global vehicle systems and integration.

Within weeks he was promoted to vice-president of global vehicle engineering, and two months later he was named president of GM North America, overseeing the company’s most important and most profitable market.

Mr Akerson is a former telecommunications executive who took over the top job at GM in September 2010, replacing Edward Whitacre and becoming the company’s fourth CEO over a turbulent period of just 18 months.

Under his leadership, America’s biggest car company has delivered three straight years of profitability after being bailed out of bankruptcy by the US government.

Although its European operations are still a weak link and in the Australian context its future manufacturing operations remain under a cloud, global vehicle sales have increased and the company is well placed for future growth.

General Motors says it has not begun a search for a replacement for Mr Akerson, although Reuters reports that the company disclosed in a securities filing earlier this year that he was not awarded any stock units in 2012 “in acknowledgement of the possibility of his retirement before the completion of the three-year vesting period”, which would be in 2015.

The news agency also cited “people close to the matter” last week who said Mr Akerson could step down as early as next year, despite not having formally notified the board of his plans.

That report also said Mr Reuss was widely seen as the frontrunner to take the top job.

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