Messiah or mechanic?
That, in a nutshell, is the choice facing General Motors when it comes to picking a new CEO. Today, the company announced it has selected Microsoft CFO Chris Liddell to become its CFO and interim Ed Whitacre and the board continue to look for someone to head up company permanently.
But do you get a visionary outsider like Lou Gerstner or Steve Jobs (post-1997 version) or even Carly Fiorina to come in, alter the culture and rearrange the company? Or do you get someone like Marc Hurd, the current CEO of Hewlett Packard who cleaned up the messes made by ex-CEO Carly Fiorina, to fine-tune an organization and bring back its confidence.
It's hard to say. Various analysts and observers have pointed to GM's sclerotic culture as one of the reasons for its decline, so that's a point for outsiders. It didn't have much interest in electric cars or hybrids until Toyota and Tesla Motors succeeded with them.
On the other hand, a lot of big decisions-the push with Volt-have already been made. There's a good argument that the company should try to do something like Ford did. In 2006, Ford plucked an outsider, Alan Mulally from Boeing, to be CEO who in turn has made a lot of decisions-cutting some divisions, concentrating on gas mileage, trying to engage customers-that seem more like fine-tuning than radical overhaul.
So what are some of the options:
1. Marc Hurd. His employment contract with HP may not permit it, but Hurd managed to turn around a computing giant that was dispirited by emphasizing a humble commitment to customer satisfaction and consumers. Granted, it helped at Dell at the same time hired armies of executives from McKinsey & Company that devalued customer satisfaction, but Hurd's skills can't be undersold. Added plus: he came from NCR before HP, an incredibly boring company that should serve him well in the long meetings waiting for the next CEO at GM.
2. Fernando "Nani" Beccalli-Falco. Who? He's the CEO of GE international. GE's got a whole bunch of people right below Jeff Immelt but you never hear about them. But they've got to be competent to some degree, no. Another fine choice: Steve Fludder, who runs Ecomagination.
3. Howard Schultz. Starbucks. He understands marketing, retail and expansion. More importantly, Wall Street analysts often gush about how Starbucks employees are organized and motivated. Considering that GM's main problem might be internal bickering, he's not a bad choice. One dent: the vast majority of baristas aren't UAW members so he won't be familiar with that organization. But someone has to gush about the Volt.
4. Dadi Perlmutter. The company doesn't advertise it much, but Perlmutter and his group largely pulled the world's largest chipmaker through one of the darkest periods in history-the fallout from the Pentium 4-with a line of low-powered processors that have taken over Intel's product line. He knows manufacturing, a great motivator and is known for working under tight deadline. Downside: marketing. While Israeli executives are great at crisis management, consumer flair isn't a strong suit. A decent alternative at Intel: Sean Maloney, who understands marketing and comes with the ever-valuable British accent.
5. Carlos Ghosn, Renault-Nissan. Ghosn has been the primary proponent among big car makers for going electric. He knows mass manufacturing, and probably everyone on GM's executive team. He's also gets identified as GM's savior on a regular basis. Like Maloney, he gets points for having an accent and building confidence of those around him.
6. William Klesse. Valero. Ten years ago, Valero was unfamiliar. Now the blue sign is tough to miss on freeways, so give him some points for understanding consumer behavior. The fuel refiner also has become a big proponent of ethanol. Dinged for not being a manufacturing guy.
7. Patti Stonsifer. Ex-Microsoft and Dreamworks. Sits on a lot of committees now. Won't be lost in Washington. Married to journalist Michael Kinsley, so lots of love from the media for years for this. One of us goes to the big house.
And some ones to avoid:
1. Anyone from Google. Google is one of the tremendous success stories of modern times. But is there anyone outside of Brin and Page that can be credited with making it what it is? In all likelihood, a recruit from Google would demand a big pay package and talk about the great food the cafeteria used to have.
2. Meg Whitman. Maybe it's because she always reminded me of someone who would have seemed more at home playing Mrs. Claus at a Christmas display at a department more, but everything about Whitman seems blah. She came to Ebay after it was on its torrid trajectory and just sort of oversaw it. Her first act if she becomes governor of California will be to scrap Arnold's green energy vision, which is the only thing the state has going for it right now.