Akerson Reorganizing GM Again! Product Development Split. Vice Chairman Stephens Moved to Chief Technology Officer

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The new CTO position was said to be a “major element of Akerson’s goal to make the company more customer driven and technology focused.”

General Motors Chairman and CEO Dan Akerson is reorganizing the automaker at the top – yet again – in a move that has been presented internally to GM employees as an attempt to make the automaker more like the technology firms that Akerson is familiar with from his Wall Street investment banking days.

GM today named Thomas G. Stephens its new Global Chief Technology Officer (CTO) effective 1 February. Stephens a 42-year GM veteran was vice chairman, Global Product Operations, a role he assumed when Bob Lutz finally retired.

GM’s product development is being divided, with as yet externally unnamed head taking over a scaled back position with more limited scope than Lutz or Stephens had – who were both without question real car guys with sweeping powers.

The fallout from the Stephens move – along with a healthy dose of corporate spin, I opine – will be likely be spelled out as soon as tomorrow in a press conference.

“Customers today expect and deserve the very best technology from their GM vehicles,” said GM Chairman and CEO Dan Akerson. “Tom will make sure that GM technology keeps up with our customers and keeps ahead of our competitors.”

The new CTO position was said to be a “major element of Akerson’s goal to make the company more customer driven and technology focused.”

However, the previous GM technology position occupied by Larry Burns was in practicality more of an academic exercise that produced reams of press releases extolling the virtues of fuel cells and other advanced technologies that had no immediate production prospects, and did not connect GM to customers or advance sales as the company sped toward bankruptcy.

Ackerson, of course, was a U.S. Treasury dictated addition to GM’s board as part of a taxpayer financed reorganization that was directed by Wall Street financiers.

In December, Akerson elevated Joel Ewanick to Global Chief Marketing Officer, responsible for all of GM’s brands. Ewanick is charged with consistent global messaging for all brands including Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, GMC, Holden, Opel and Vauxhall,” GM said in a statement at the time.

“Ewanick will provide oversight for global brand enhancements in the markets in which they are sold and work in association with the regional presidents in countries where GM has partnerships and joint ventures,” Akerson said.

How the new Stephens CTO position will parallel the Global Marketing one is not clear, and was not articulated in a terse press release GM kicked out this afternoon.

Another controversy faces his replacements: Stephens was vice president of Engineering in both the former GM Powertrain organization and GM Truck Group, vice president of Vehicle Integration and executive vice president of Global Powertrain and Global Quality. Earlier in his career, Stephens was assistant chief engineer of the Cadillac Northstar engine, and plant manager of the Livonia Engine Plant. His successors will be scrutinized to see if they have even remotely similar car guy credentials.

When Akerson took over as CEO last August he said in a brief media question period that it was safe to assume that there won’t be any major management changes.

“The biggest change is me,” Akerson said then.

In addition to serving on the GM board since July 2009, Akerson has had a career in finance as a managing director at the Carlyle Group and in telecommunications, serving as chairman and chief executive officer of XO Communications and at Nextel Communications. He was also chairman and CEO of General Instrument Corp.

Akerson graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy with a bachelor of science in engineering. He earned his M.Sc. in economics from the London School of Economics.

About Ken Zino

Ken Zino is an auto industry veteran with global experience in print, broadcast and electronic media. He has auto testing, marketing, public relations and communications expertise garnered while working in Asia, Europe and the U.S.
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