Former AT&T Chief Ed Whitacre Jr. to Head GM

As a certified car buff and head of a media company covering the world of communications and technology it just doesn’t get any better than this. An opportunity to discuss one of my passions and get paid for it… Who could ask for more?

Ed Whitacre Jr. is a masterful businessman and did a fantastic job working to get federal regulators to repeal telecom deregulation while at the same time reassembling an AT&T monopoly which to be fair now competes with Verizon and a slew of cable companies.

He laid the foundation for IPTV delivery and assembled a major force in the cellular industry via AT&T Wireless.

His masterful ability to manage a company which grew through acquisition is unparalleled. Before changing the name to AT&T, SBC was a major lobbying force and by taking out AT&T through acquisition they actually removed the competitive lobbyists from pushing regulation which would have hurt CLECs such as SBC. The move was genius.

The man has passion. I have never interviewed him but in a Businessweek article he gave an emotion-packed explanation of what he feels about Google and how they won’t be allowed to use his pipes for free. I admire the passion and enthusiasm. I don’ think the comments he made were in the consumer’s best interest but as a man managing a publicly traded company he did right by shareholders with these comments.

If we look to GM we have a company that like AT&T was part of a duopoly. The difference is as soon as competition emerged the company folded like a poker player with a bad hand.

For too many years GM had lousy management and created cars that for lack of a better word sucked. Americans ran away from Detroit automobiles like AT&T ran away from VoIP in the nineties.

What GM needs is a leader who can make a company run lean and mean while remaining nimble. Somehow this is not what I think of when I hear AT&T. This doesn’t mean Whitacre can’t do the job it just means whoever chose Whitacre apparently has no idea what skills the new lader needs.

We are in an age where speed in business is becoming the differentiator between success and failure. It took decades for GM to launch the Japanese fighting Saturn brand and it had the potential to change the Detroit vs. Japan fight if executed correctly. Now Saturn is being sold off like scrap metal.

I have to admit I don’t know Whitacre but admire what he has built. But what I have read about the man leads me to believe he is destined for colossal failure if for no other reason than he seems computer illiterate. According to BusinessWeek he doesn’t use a computer. Here is a direct quote from the man:

”I’m not computer illiterate, but I’m close. If two people are sitting 20 feet from each other and sending each other E-mails, I think that’s ridiculous.”

Uh, hello – and you ran a company which allowed the world to use email and text messaging to dramatically increase their productivity?

GM needs better car designers. They need someone to stand up to the unions and restructure compensation so that it is not on par with the Japanese – but far lower because the Chinese are coming.

The things GM needs are speed, quality, public relations and lower costs. Whitacre will bring an amazing ability to do deals and manage M&A as well as the skills to convince the government to do whatever he wants.

But do we need an M&A guru to turn GM around? I don’t think so. What should scare you to death is that our government seems to be writing blank checks to GM already. Wait till there are even more skillful lobbyists in place.. We can all expect to sign a few paychecks a year over the “Government Motors.”

This move I fear will be terrible for US taxpayers because I can’t see how Whitacre will be able to dig GM out of the hole they’ve already created for themselves.

Having said that the task is monumental and I hope I am wrong.

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