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GM’s new leaders survived darkest days

By Mark Phelan
Detroit Free Press

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They all had easier, safer options, but they chose to stay with the ship. Now they are the team that will lead General Motors Co. into its next era.

Mary Barra, Mark Reuss and Alan Batey stuck with GM during the company’s darkest hours, when it looked like the company might fold. Dan Ammann jumped onto the leaky ship from a secure position at Morgan Stanley.

They endured public scorn and skirted financial ruin as GM navigated its way through the financial crisis and the political firestorm that came with the government assistance that saved the company. Frankly, they all could probably have made more money at other companies that weren’t under government supervision.

Now they must lead GM forward, prove it’s one of the world’s great companies, and silence the critics who mocked it as “Government Motors.”

Barra’s leadership team is steeped in engineering excellence. She, Reuss and Batey all started as engineers. Reuss and Barra share responsibility for the string of acclaimed vehicles GM introduced in the past several years, including the Cadillac ATS and CTS, the Chevrolet Impala, Silverado and Corvette Stingray.

Even Ammann, the ex-banker, is a lifelong car geek who is certified as an industry test driver at the legendary Nurburgring race course in Germany. That’s a rare distinction in an industry where the finance department is often derided as full of bean counters who don’t understand what excites customers.

“This sends a very clear message: We’re in the business of designing, developing and building great cars and trucks,” said Michelle Krebs, Edmunds.com senior analyst.

“Mary’s been involved in the business that’s the core of GM — how to design, develop and build a car,” Krebs said.

As human resources chief, Barra kept morale from cratering as GM teetered on the brink during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Despite a wave of plant closures, job losses and political attacks, GM developed vehicles that went on to win awards and sell strongly.

Barra and Reuss have a relaxed and comfortable working relationship. Reuss’s ascension to GM’s top global product development job is a natural move in a career arc that includes founding the company’s performance division and overseeing GM’s newly profitable North American operations.

Batey’s move to lead GM’s key North American unit is a natural for the man who most recently oversaw Chevrolet’s global expansion. GM’s fate and Chevrolet’s are nearly inseparable.

The team’s immediate challenges will be to increase the flow of fresh, compelling new vehicles, return GM’s European Opel brand to profitability, and create a new global strategy for Chevrolet.


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