Veteran CEOs Talk About How They Would Fix Troubled Companies

Troubled companies abound. Here’s how veteran CEOs would tackle some of the solutions.

Grappling With Recalls at General Motors

The Situation
Detroit’s $155-billion automaker fields the best product lineup in its history and Mary Barra, the industry’s fi rst female CEO. But GM’s safety-recall crisis preoccupied her from the start of her tenure in January, with Barra attempting to change a GM culture that had remained sclerotic and secretive. Meanwhile, the performance of the company’s brands has been uneven. So Barra recently brought in Johan de Nysschen, who turned around Audi in the U.S. market and was helming Infiniti worldwide, to head Cadillac.

The Solutions
David Cole: A broken culture? She can’t throw away the good things, which includes the fact that GM’s portfolio of products now is world-class. Yet, [Barra] needs to look beyond what’s happening now. I’ve suggested to Mary that she take the lead in tackling the issue of training the workforce of the future in this country.

Seth Goldman: How do you change the conversation? Maybe, almost, over-sharing. What if GM created the world’s biggest database about auto accidents? And about the safety features and comparisons of every car, including competitors? It could be almost an “open sourcing” of the consumer experience with safety and show they’re not hiding anything.

Dennis Zeleny: She still needs to work on the tone at the top. If [Chief Counsel Michael] Millikin knew nothing about the big safety problem before the recall, he at least had lawyers beneath him who failed to communicate with him. So the question for [Barra] is—is it OK to let him keep running a division when he didn’t know this?

Rally Receding for Hewlett-Packard

The Situation
Left behind by the Silicon Valley boom has been one of its original major players, which continued to lose ground over the years as its emphasis on selling PCs, printers and other computer hardware was outstripped by its neighbors’ surging software and services businesses. Under CEO Meg Whitman since 2012, Hewlett-Packard had seemed to stabilize and rally as she nudged the company in rivals’ direction even while stubbornly maintaining its traditional reliance on hardware. But HP said last spring that it would cut up to 16,000 jobs on top of 34,000 positions previously targeted in a multi-year restructuring.

The Solutions
Marc Brownstein: HP should get back to what it was known for. Here’s a company that used to come out with these wonderful products—often early to market—that has become reactive with me-too products and gotten bloated. I would set up an incubator division and put their smartest people there.

Leider: Maybe they need to spin off their hardware. And figure out how to connect with people as they did during their pretty cool ad campaign last year about photo sharing. Possibly Facebook could swallow them up and HP could be tied together with Instagram; at least, she needs to think about more partnerships.

Joel Trammell: At one point in time, HP was known as the leading engineering company in the world. They should try to recreate that asset. That would drive everything else.


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