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GM’s Mary Barra may be “toast” says Noel Tichy

GM's Mary Barra may be “toast” says Noel Tichy

GM and Ford have been battling it out for the hearts and dollars of Americans for more than a century. GM is still winning on pure size – it’s the world’s third largest automaker behind Toyota  and VW. But as far as leadership goes – one expert says GM may need to start worrying about who they have at the helm.

CEO Mary Barra has been widely praised for her handling of the recall crisis but cracks may be emerging in Barra’s telling of events – namely – that she wasn’t aware of ignition switch issues until January.

But Noel Tichy, author of the new book “Succession: Mastering the Make-or-Break Process of Leadership Transition” says, “If you follow her story, her testimony in front of Congress – sworn testimony – where she didn’t know about it until the end of last year, there are data out that looks like she and others may have known years ago. So there may be reasonable probability of a smoking gun. If so, that’s perjury, and she’s toast,” said Tichy – who has worked with everyone from Jack Welch to Indra Nooyi.

Full disclosure – he also worked with Jacque Nasser at Ford and was ousted along with Nasser during the Firestone crisis.

But Tichy has more problems with Barra than just the recall – he also thinks GM made a mistake splitting the chairman and CEO role once again. It has split, and then reunited, the roles several times. Barra’s predecessor Dan Akerson was both chairman and CEO.

Tichy feels that combined role is important in running a company. “When you split the Chairman and CEO role, you get what people who are growing up know how to do – play mom and pop against each other, and I think it is a very tough, rarely works way to run a company.”

It’s one of many reasons Tichy is far more bullish on Ford’s new CEO Mark Fields.

“Mark, who I’ve known for years, was carefully groomed. Was, spent years in Japan, he’s run all parts of the company and I think he’s going to be a fabulous CEO. He’s going to go through ups and downs, some tough times, but if anyone has kind of checked the boxes of leadership at Ford, Mark Fields is the guy,” said Tichy.

In general, Tichy is a fan of promoting from within, and blasts companies like HP for continuing to recruit outsiders to helm the brand.

He also thinks Fields has a leg up because, while both he and Barra have had long successful careers within their respective automakers, Fields experience was more generalist – running Mazda and having experience with profits and losses. Barra’s experience was based in product development, with minimal focus on things like bottom lines.

So far – GM stock is down about 20% since Barra took the helm January 15th. Ford stock is down nearly 17% since Mark Fields took over July 1. So as far as investors go – neither looks like a great option.

Still, October was a strong month for auto sales, and with gas hovering near $3/gallon and no signs of increasing, it looks like it might be game on in Detroit.

Editor’s note: After the posting of this article GM representatives e-mailed the following statement with regards to Dr. Tichy’s remarks about Ms. Barra:

“Dr. Tichy has no idea what he is talking about. There is no data or anything resembling data that contradicts Mary Barra’s sworn testimony. His comments were inflammatory, careless, ill-informed and wrong. He owes GM and Mary Barra an apology.”