Barra's every move is being dissected in the wake of the recall of
2.6 million cars for an ignition switch defect linked to at least 13
One question is whether the "New GM" that emerged from bankruptcy in
2009 is a different company from the old one.
Barra's inner circle includes one relative newcomer, and GM has
hired three outside consultants for help with the switch crisis, but
most of her core team, like Barra, are long-time GM veterans.
Products chief Mark Reuss may be her closest ally, even though the
two vied to become CEO, according to a consensus of eight current
and former executives, who asked not to be identified. He's a "car
guy" and she's a "car gal," an accolade in Detroit for true driving
The second close advisor is chief counsel Michael Millikin, who has
risen in influence as he has helped guide the company's guarded
response to the ignition switch defect. He is co-leading the
internal probe of the switch.
GM declined to comment on Barra's closest team.
Barra has said she meets with her team daily by phone or in person.
She also makes nearly daily calls to non-executive Chairman Tim
Solso, the 67-year-old former Cummins <CMI.N> CEO, who was chosen by
the board as chair at the same time Barra was named CEO, in order to
mentor her. Solso is not part of the core team running the company's
day-to-day operations, though.
When Barra, 52, went to Congress for a grilling, Milliken and Reuss
sat behind her as she repeatedly apologized, promised to take care
of customers and offered limited details of what actually happened.
The inner team is rounded out by Human Relations head John Quattrone,
Alan Batey, the company's point person with U.S. dealers, and former
Wall Street banker Dan Ammann, who as chief financial officer
reworked the company's opaque financial systems after bankruptcy.
All of the five but Ammann have been at GM for more than three
"She's not looking for personal advisors who would be separate from
the management team," said a person familiar with GM's operations.
Barra, a 34-year GM veteran, believes that looking outside the GM
executive ranks and board room is not necessary, given the
management team's crisis experience surviving the U.S. economic
meltdown in 2008 and the company's bankruptcy the following year,
the person added. Most have worked around the world for GM.
Barra's team was assembled to rebuild the company from the inside,
not to take on the switch crisis.
They are a legacy of former CEO Dan Akerson, who anointed Barra and
set the key elements of the company's post-bankruptcy strategy:
launch better cars and trucks for which the automaker could charge
higher prices, while repairing overseas operations, especially in
Millikin, 65, was "connected at the hip with Akerson" and North
American chief Batey, 51, was also a confidant, sources said.
Quattrone, 61, though, is a former lieutenant of Barra, when she ran
HR following the company's 2009 bankruptcy.
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"Your inner circle has to include product development, because
that's where most of the people are; customer sales and service,
because the dealers are the face of the company; and HR, because
it's recruiting, promoting and rewarding the right people," a second
person familiar with GM's operations said, referring to jobs held by
Reuss, Batey and Quattrone.
Reuss, 50, is a fellow engineer who succeeded Barra as GM's
global product development chief and speaks the same language.
"They have similar backgrounds, are about the same age and obviously
have spent a lot of time together the last few years," one of the
former GM executives said. The two together faced reporters in March
for the first time after the recall.
Sitting next to each other at a table with several journalists at
the company's Detroit riverfront headquarters, Barra fielded most
questions, occasionally calling on Reuss, who explained how GM
tracked potential defect issues, for instance.
Relative newcomer Ammann, 42, was recruited from Wall Street in
April 2010 to be treasurer and manage GM's reintroduction to the
public stock market that fall. Now president and charged with
running GM's regional operations, he was the third prominent
executive considered along with Barra and Reuss for GM's top job.
Ammann advised GM during its bankruptcy reorganization as head of
industrial investment banking at Morgan Stanley, and sources said
the New Zealand native is seen as representing an outsider voice
given his shorter history at GM. But he has an insider's approach to
cars: he spent his first bonus from Morgan Stanley on a light blue
1961 Cadillac Series 62 convertible.
Barra and GM have turned to outsiders in some cases to help in its
handling of the recall. Former U.S. Attorney Anton Valukas is
co-leading the company's internal probe, attorney Kenneth Feinberg
has been hired to examine what step GM might take for families of
crash victims, and crisis consultant Jeff Eller was recruited to
help in the company's overall response.
There is room for a sixth adviser as well. Public relations chief
Selim Bingol stepped down earlier this month, one of a small flurry
of executive departures sources saw as giving Barra room to pick her
own team. HR chief Melissa Howell left, replaced by Barra's old
(Reporting by Ben Klayman in Detroit; editing by Paul Lienert and
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