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Profile: Rick Wagoner: CEO of General Motors

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Profile: Rick Wagoner: CEO of General Motors

Business

Profile: Rick Wagoner: CEO of General Motors

Profile: Rick Wagoner: CEO of General Motors

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General Motors last week announced plans to eliminate 30,000 jobs and close plants over the next two years. Industry analysts say the cuts are a good first step to return the automaker to profitability, but most say the job of fixing GM is far from over. Much of the task of turning the company around rests on the shoulders of GM's chairman and CEO, Richard Wagoner.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

When General Motors announced last week plans to eliminate 30,000 jobs and close plants over the next two years, industry analysts said the cuts are a good first step to return the automaker to profitability, although most say the job of fixing GM is far from over. Much of the task of turning the company around rests on the shoulders of GM's chairman and CEO, Richard Wagoner. NPR's Jack Speer reports.

JACK SPEER reporting:

Rick Wagoner is the chairman and CEO of a company that will likely lose between 3 and $4 billion this year.

Mr. KEITH CRAIN (Automotive News): He's probably got the toughest job that any chairman of General Motors has ever faced.

SPEER: Keith Crain is editor and publisher of Automotive News. He says GM has gone through rough patches before, but not like this. He says the task for Wagoner is different and more complicated than the challenges previous GM chairmen have dealt with.

Mr. CRAIN: None of them have had the kind of competition that he's facing. None of them understood or even worried about global competition, the way he's got to worry about global competition, both on the suppliers' side and on the competitive side.

SPEER: Meanwhile, GM's market share continues to erode, along with its credit rating. David Cole heads the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Mr. DAVID COLE (Center for Automotive Research): I know he has the support of the General Motors board. That doesn't mean that there's an infinite amount of time for this to take place. I think they expect decisive action.

SPEER: Wagoner grew up in Virginia, graduated from Duke and went on to get an MBA from Harvard. He went to work for GM as a financial analyst and rose through the corporate ranks to become GM's youngest-ever president and CEO. Asked by reporters whether he's under pressure from Wall Street and GM's board to do something quickly, Wagoner denied that was the reason for the latest restructuring announcement.

Mr. RICHARD WAGONER (Chairman and CEO, General Motors): We're not taking these actions to relieve pressure. We're taking the actions to try to focus on what is the right thing for General Motors in North America, what will make our business successful. It's certainly accurate to say the board is very interested in those actions. They've been very supportive of those actions and of me personally. I've greatly appreciated it and will continue to keep them closely advised.

SPEER: But despite having the support of GM's board, there is plenty of speculation on how much longer he will have to achieve a turnaround. Shortly after announcing the latest job cuts and plant closings, Wagoner said he wasn't afraid of losing his own job.

Mr. WAGONER: I wasn't brought up to run and hide when things get tough. We're on the battlefield and we're taking the actions we need to, and I'm convinced that's the way the company's going to get righted.

SPEER: Wagoner called the decision to cut jobs and close plants difficult to reach because of the impact on employees and the communities where they live and work. Also not clear is whether even the latest cuts will be enough, and analysts say GM and its CEO have another, even bigger, task ahead, building cars and trucks Americans actually want to buy.

Jack Speer, NPR News, Washington.

MONTAGNE: And to read how General Motors got stuck in reverse, go to our Web site, npr.org.

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP (Host): And I'm Steve Inskeep.

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