GM's new president Ammann out to prove he is not a 'bean counter'

Bernie Woodall
File photo of General Motors Chief Financial Officer Ammann speaking during an interview with Reuters at GM's proving ground in Milford
General Motors Chief Financial Officer Dan Ammann speaks during an interview with Reuters at GM's proving ground in Milford, Michigan in this June 25, 2012, file photo. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook/Files

By Bernie Woodall

DETROIT (Reuters) - General Motor Co's incoming president has gone to great lengths to prove that while he is the U.S. automaker's chief financial officer, he is not just a "bean counter."

Named to his new position on Tuesday, Dan Ammann will fill what many analysts and investors saw as a gap in his resume by managing GM's regional operations around the globe and perhaps preparing himself to take over as CEO one day.

Ammann has tried to prove his "car guy" credentials in several ways, including being one of only about 30 company executives who are certified to drive at high speeds at GM's Michigan test track. And he is a certified test driver at the famous Nurburgring Nordschleife racetrack in Germany.

GM did not make Ammann available to comment

Independent auto analyst Maryann Keller said that Ammann complements the skills of Mary Barra, who will replace retiring CEO Dan Akerson in January.

"He's a finance person in a No. 2 position because clearly that's the one thing in her resume that's lacking," said Keller of the pairing of Ammann and Barra as GM's top leaders.

Someone familiar with the GM board's thinking said that Ammann, 41, works "amazingly well" with Barra, who will be 52 once she takes over as CEO.

"They have complementary skill sets and the personalities are such that they work really well as a team," said the person, who asked not to be identified discussing the process.

In addition to running the regional units, Ammann will have the Chevrolet and Cadillac brand operations and GM Financial report to him. Analysts welcomed his promotion as it keeps the highly regarded executive in the fold and gives him the operational experience many felt he lacked to round out his resume.

"Who's to say that in 10 years he might not be the successor to Mary," said the source. "There's about a 10-year age difference between the two of them. It's perfect."

Alan Baum, an industry consultant, said, the enhanced role Ammann will fill shows that GM knows that it also needs to have someone with his financial expertise near the top.

"How do you maintain what they call a fortress balance sheet while also investing in the product line and regional opportunities around the world? His non-automotive experience will remain in play," said Baum.

An analyst who wished to remain anonymous said that the naming of Ammann as the second-in-command at GM was a nod to Wall Street.

"They had to throw a bone to Wall Street," the analyst said. "I like Dan a lot. He's a smart guy, but he's got a lot to learn about GM."

Ammann will retain his CFO duties, which he assumed in April 2011, until at least the company's next quarterly earnings report in early February. The New Zealand native joined GM in 2010 as vice president of finance and treasurer.

This promotion was announced a day after the U.S. Treasury said it had sold the last of its GM shares, which could clear the way for the restoration of a common stock dividend for investors.

(Additional reporting by Ben Klayman and Deepa Seetharaman in Detroit; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)