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March 30th, 2009 - 2:09 pm

Fortune’s Alex Taylor III on GM’s Rick Wagoner:

…if Wagoner had retired on January 1, 2008 instead of March 29, 2009, he might have been remembered as one of GM’s greatest leaders.

Without fanfare, he negotiated an historic agreement with the United Auto Workers to reduce the burden of pension and health care costs and to make its hourly labor costs more competitive.

He was also in the final stages of the consolidation of GM’s North American operations after a century of balkanization. At last, what was then the world largest auto company would be able to leverage its global scale to become cost- and efficiency-competitive.

None of this was accomplished easily, or without the shedding of thousands of blue- and white-collar workers. But through it all, Wagoner retained the respect and loyalty of the vast majority of GM’s enormous workforces.

Well… no. Not even close.

Read this from Wikipedia:

During his reign, GM shares have plummeted from around $60 in June 2000 to as low as $1.27 in March 2009, a loss of approximately 98%, and GM’s share of North American cars sales went from 28.3% to 18.3%.

Bad luck? Bad timing? Hardly.

Wagoner reaped huge profits from SUV sales, then pissed them away on rotten deals with FIAT and badge-engineered monstrosities. He pissed away every brand in the GM portfolio except for Chevy (although not profitable enough to save the company) and Cadillac (far too small to save the company). He turned GM’s “import-fighter” brand, Saturn, into a brand of rebadged imports.

As early as spring of 2006, it was clear to some that Wagoner had already failed. GM couldn’t make money selling cars, and SUVs had become unfashionable and undesirable in Katrina’s wake. When GM still had money in the bank, Wagoner could have killed off the dead brands walking (Buick NA, GMC, Pontiac, Saturn, SAAB, Hummer) and still had enough cash to restructure the surviving operations. Instead, he led GM to where it is today — a bottomless pit of your tax dollars, building cars no one wants, maintaining divisions no one needs, and giving the Federal government ownership of its very own auto workers’ union (and vice versa).

By Taylor’s date, Wagoner had taken on exactly two of GM’s five fatal problems, and those only in part. He’d been at the helm for ten years. This is how Fortune magazine measures success?

For his efforts, Wagoner walks away with about a hundred million dollars in salary and bonuses over the years, and a golden parachute no one can take away.

And thanks to the Bush & Obama Wonder Twins, you get to pay for it all.

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