Not much of a public profile at Detroit from Ed Whitacre, the Texan appointed to the top job at Government Motors by the Obama administration.
He wasn’t doing media interviews, although appeared on the sidelines at a GM press conference.
Talking to GM insiders at the show, though, gave a fascinating insight into the new way of working at GM.
Last month was the watershed, it seems, when a whole new internal business methodology was introduced, essentially a blueprint for day-to-operations focused on profitability.
Now one of the key new disciplines is a target-driven culture for managers. Whitacre is, so I‘m told, a stickler for numbers and particularly holding managers accountable for the numbers promised, which is, apparently, a new idea at GM.
So sales and production forecasts are no longer guides to operations, but hard-and-fast, career–making-or-breaking decisions. Refreshingly there seems to be an acceptance that such a hard-nosed approach is probably a good thing.
He’s also questioning lots of the basic givens in the car industry. On the eve of the Detroit show he was reputedly asking awkward questions about why GM was exhibiting at the show - a question that had execs scurrying around for answers.
He also scheduled some major meeting at the last minute that disrupted execs' schedules at the show.
More significantly, I’m told Whitacre is leaving the key car and design-related decisions to the experts. He made his name for shaking-up and sorting out telecoms giant AT&T, so this is also probably a good thing. In getting to the stage where he makes such decisions to OK or not a design, his mode of operation appears to be mainly inquisitor, asking lots of basic questions.
How this will play out as GM’s future designs are rolled out under his leadership remains to be seen, but from the outside it does sound like the kind of culture that creates safe and sound design rather than challenging and ground-breaking new cars.