In 2001, about a year into his tenure as CEO of then-struggling Cummins Inc., Tim Solso did the unthinkable: He axed one of the two U.S. heavy-duty engine platforms under development, one in which the company had invested nearly three years and tens of millions of dollars.
“To kill an engine platform at Cummins back then, it was like a sacred cow,” says Jean Blackwell, who was then a vice president at the diesel engine maker. “Tim’s message was: ‘We need the right cost structure, and the customers have to want it.’ People weren’t used to hearing that.”
Automotive News reported that the recent selection of Solso as General Motors’ nonexecutive chairman didn’t come as a shock to former colleagues, given the parallels between his 12-year tenure at Cummins and the path of post-bankruptcy GM. Both involved a struggle to change the culture of a once-dominant but humbled company, whacking away at a bloated cost structure and a renewed effort to focus on the customer.
GM’s board views Solso, 66, as a steady hand to complement a capable but relatively green new executive team, according to two people familiar with the directors’ thinking. Mary Barra, 52, takes over as CEO on Jan. 15 from Dan Akerson. Her No. 2 will be GM CFO Dan Amman, 41, who will become president with broad operating oversight.
Still, it’s unclear how assertive Solso will be. Other than a brief period after GM’s 2009 bankruptcy, the company hasn’t had a nonexecutive chairman in nearly 20 years.
GM did not make Solso available for an interview to discuss his new job, which also begins on Jan. 15.
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