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I’m here for the long haul, says new Holden boss

Count me in: Holden's new chairman and managing director Mike Devereux says he has been told he will be in Australia for the long term.

New MD Devereux says GM Holden is back on track after a “horrific” year

Holden logo21 Apr 2010

By RON HAMMERTON

GM HOLDEN’S fifth chief executive in three years has promised he is here for the long haul with a mandate from parent company General Motors to ensure the Australian company survives and thrives as one of only seven GM sites capable of designing, building and selling its own products.

Mike Devereux, a British-born, Canadian-raised 26-year veteran of GM, today said Holden was already trading profitably after its “horrific” $210.6 million loss last year.

In his first media conference just one week after becoming Holden's newest chairman and managing director, he also indicated the company could continue to do so on the back of domestic sales after the collapse of much of its export volumes to the United States and the Middle East.

“The business is pretty healthy right now,” he said. “We don’t need a ton of export recovery to make money in Australia.” Speaking after a whirlwind seven-day introduction to Holden since arriving from Dubai and his previous position as GM Middle East Operations president and managing director, Mr Devereux replaces a string of quick-fire MDs, most of whom were snatched away from Holden to shore up the management ranks elsewhere in the GM world.

 center image Left: Holden VE Commodore assembly. Below: Holden-designed and engineered Chevrolet Camaro.

Since Denny Mooney sat on the MD’s chair at Fishermens Bend in 2007, Chris Gubbey, Mark Reuss and Alan Batey have all come and gone in quick succession as – back at headquarters in Detroit – GM fought to stave off complete financial collapse in the global financial crisis.

"You've seen a series of folks through this particular chair because, frankly, the company went through hell and back in the past two years,” Mr Devereux said.

"We stared over the edge." But the newcomer promises this time it will be different, with GM chairman Ed Whitacre intent on letting the new global management team settle in for the long term to get on with business.

“Now that we have got what we call ‘the deck chairs laid out’ at General Motors, it is our intention to let managing directors and regional presidents run their businesses for long-term periods,” Mr Devereux said.

“Frankly, in GM’s history, that is what we have generally done.” Mr Devereux said he had no intention of making changes to the plans laid out by his predecessors.

“The plans that were set in place by Mark Reuss and Alan Batey are rock-solid plans, and I don’t see that I will be coming in here and changing any plans,” he said.

“My management style is enable culture and let that drive what people can get accomplished. So I don’t see any strategic differences.

“Alan (Batey) and I have known each other for a long time. We had a very good solid handover period, and Alan’s plan is my plan.” Among the plans are the roll-out of the locally-made Cruze sedan and hatch early next year and introduction of the ethanol-fuelled E85-capable Commodore later this year.

Mr Devereux – who had dinner with federal transport minister Kim Carr at an innovation event on Monday night – ruled out the need for any federal financial assistance, saying Holden was happy with its finances and future potential, despite last year’s loss that included $223.4 million in one-off charges for restructuring costs.

“We have had a strong start to 2010,” he said. “We are not claiming victory, but we expect 2010 to be a very good year for Holden, and when we post our results next year, hopefully they will not need any explaining.” Mr Devereux said the market rebound was “already upon us”, but it was too early to say when Holden would restore the second shift that Holden axed at its Elizabeth car plant after the collapse of its Pontiac G8 export deal early last year.

“It is totally our intention to bring back the second shift,” he said.

“We are not ready to do that right now. The market is making some gains. We like where we are, but what you have got to remember is we are starting from a long way back.

“We had an unprecedented horrific year, and we had an unprecedented horrific year as an industry – not just Australia.

“When we are in a position to increase volume and ship cars, we are going to do that, but we are going to be talking with our union before we talk with anybody else, and we are not in a position to do that today.” Mr Devereux said Holden did not necessarily need a lot of exports to make money in Australia, saying: “We are running our business extremely well right here. The rebound is already upon us.” However, he said he would chase every export opportunity for Australian-made product, adding that the company had two handy allies in the US – former Holden MDs Mark Reuss, now president of GM North America, and Alan Batey, now vice-president of sales and service for Chevrolet.

Mr Devereux said Holden’s greatest strength was its workforce, which he described as “car guys”.

“Everybody here understands the business, and that is a huge untapped asset for General Motors and something, given my background in the States, that I will be trying to leverage here,” he said.

“We have an incredible talent base in Australia by virtue of the fact that one of the most iconic products we have in the United States, the Camaro, was fully designed and engineered at GM Holden, so the place has an incredible amount of confidence placed in it by GM.” Mr Devereux praised the Australian government’s relationship with the motor industry.

“Australia has a thriving auto industry and I see absolutely no reason, seeing as how intelligently the government is approaching this public/private partnership, why that would not continue,” he said.

Mr Devereux, 44, holds a science degree in industrial engineering and a master’s degree in business administration from Harvard.

He joined GM as a co-op student at a Canadian engine plant and has held positions in product development, sales and e-business.

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