Donald W. Reynolds National Center For Business Journalism

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Expect GM turnaround to last a decade

May 15, 2015

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Board members at major corporations rarely share their thoughts about how companies are run. So, it’s worth checking out comments made to Bloomberg by E. Neville Isdell, who is retiring as a director of General Motors.

Isdell joined the GM board in 2008, on the eve of the automaker’s federally directed bankruptcy filing. He had been the chief executive at Coca-Cola, where he helped lead a turnaround and made Coke Zero a hit with consumers.

Isdell’s tenure on the GM board coincided with a revolving door for its management, record recalls and political drama over a bailout for the No. 1 U.S. carmaker.

He told Bloomberg that it will still take years until GM is fixed. “A turnaround at something as big as GM is a 10-year thing,” said Isdell, who leaves the board in June. “We’re not finished.”

A GM spokesman did not comment to Bloomberg on Isdell’s remarks. He had plenty of other things to say about the way GM is being run.

  • CEO Mary Barra proved her mettle in her initial year at CEO, when GM was pummeled by sweeping series of recalls.  “She can deal with very difficult situations,” he said. “If you think of what she was thrown into, she has been magnificent.”
  • GM is bungling the marketing of its Chevrolet vehicles. Although consumers know that the division makes good pickup trucks, many aren’t considering its cars. He said he’d made his concerns known to GM management “but they didn’t want to listen.”
  • It may take more money to lift Cadillac into the upper tier of global luxury brands. “I don’t know if $12 billion is enough,” he said of GM’s investment, “but it’s a start and it will move the needle.”
  • GM staffers are still displaying institutional arrogance about the company’s standing, despite a report that outlined GM’s cultural flaws, he said.

Many journalists complain that they can’t get directors to talk to them, but the Bloomberg story shows that directors may be willing to be candid, when they know their tenures are ending.

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