Marry Barra and a new era at General Motors

1 2015 Cadillac Escalade

What a difference a couple of years makes. GM was left for dead by many after the 2008 economic meltdown. In our polarized political climate, it seemed that watching GM collapse was essential to validate their view of the world. The notion that the government would extend a lifeline and not let GM and Chrysler liquidate was heresy in many circles. Never mind that it would have decimated countless auto suppliers as well and destroyed hundreds of thousands of jobs.

The auto bailout, however, was much more than a government handout. It was an event that made it possible to make stryctural changes to GM that were necessary for the company’s survival and long term health. But even after the bailout, many were skeptical that GM could survive, let alone thrive. This is where the new management team found itself, and they deserve credit for moving the company forward. BusinessWeek noted the progress as GM made the hsitoric announcement that Mary Barra would take over as the new CEO:

As Barra takes charge, GM is looking stronger than it has in decades. It’s in its third straight profitable year and feasting on the fruits of bankruptcy, which in its case include lower labor costs, less debt, and the elimination of weak brands and redundant dealers. Brian Johnson, an analyst with Barclays (BCS), expects it to earn about $6 billion in 2013. As the automaker sees the benefits of all the products it’s launching and additional cost reductions, its profit could reach $10 billion in 2017, according to Johnson. In 2010, GM had the second-biggest initial public offering in U.S. history; shares are trading at a high; the company returned to the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index; and it won back an investment-grade credit rating for the first time in eight years from Moody’s (MCO). Warren Buffett has been buying the stock. China, where Buick is a status symbol—it was the ride of China’s last emperor—is now the company’s biggest market.

And GM is no longer “Government Motors.” On Dec. 9, the day before Akerson announced his retirement, the Department of the Treasury, which had been selling about 1 million GM shares a day as the year was ending, declared it had sold the last. The federal government will recoup about $39 billion of its $50 billion investment. Supporters of the Obama administration’s decision to take over GM, who now include Akerson, contend that the jobs saved at both the company and its huge network of suppliers more than repaid U.S. taxpayers. According to the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich., the takeover preserved 2.6 million jobs in 2009 at automakers and companies that depend on the industry. The center calculates that a collapse would have eliminated $284 billion in personal income in 2009 and 2010 and cost the federal government $105 billion in unemployment benefits and reduced Social Security contributions. GM says it has invested $8.8 billion in U.S. facilities since 2009 and created 25,500 jobs for new and existing workers.

Barra’s promotion is historic given her gender, but it also marks a new era in the history of GM. The bailout years are now behind the company, and Barra has an opportunity to continue the progress made over the past 5 years. Read the entire article, as she seems particularly qualified to lead this effort.

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