GM chief: "We got a second chance"

Dan Akerson tells CBS News about the car company's rebound after the federal government bailout.
CBS News

On Thursday the Dow closed at 12,904. That's near its highest close in nearly four years. General Motors was up 9 percent on that news that GM has posted the highest profits in its history.

You may remember that GM was bankrupt and bailed out only three years ago, causing some to joke that the initials stood for "Government Motors." The car maker has covered a lot of road since then and CBS News correspondent Dean Reynolds caught up with the man in the driver's seat .

We met Dan Akerson, who has been CEO and chairman of General Motors since September of 2010, along a Detroit assembly line producing GM's Volt electric car, a symbol of GM's rebound.

"We got a second chance here," Akerson said. "A million jobs were saved, the industrial infrastructure and the manufacturing base of America in large measure is still intact. In fact it's prospering. All three of the big automakers are now profitable for the first time since maybe the '60s or '70s."

The 63-year-old Akerson is a Naval Academy graduate who's run several telecommunications companies, but never an automaker.

"When you took over, did you look at the place and go, 'Gee whiz, how screwed up is this?'" Reynolds asked Akerson.

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"Well, there were some long nights," recalled Akerson.

U.S. taxpayers have recovered nearly half of their $50 billion investment in GM when the U.S. Treasury took a majority stake in the company back in 2009. The government still owns 500 million shares. And if it wants to sell and just break even, GM's stock will have to double in value from where it is today.

"They're a shareholder just like a couple hundred thousand other shareholders we have," said Akerson. "We're working on their behalf and we hope that they'll get all their money back. It'll be determined by them, depending on when they want to sell."

GM has 12,0000 fewer employees than it did the year before restructuring and has cut back on pay and pension benefits.But work shifts have been added at three U.S. facilities and two plants here have been re-opened.

"Did President Obama save General Motors?" Reynolds asked

"Without the money, without the funding, it would have been very problematic," said Akerson. "At the risk of alienating a whole lot of potential customers, I would say the Obama administration did a good job."

Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney and other critics have argued the bailout was unnecessary, and that the regular bankruptcy process would have made GM and Chrysler stronger companies.

"Would that have happened?" Reynolds asked.

"Not in my opinion," asked Akerson. "It would have been in bankruptcy for years and I think you could have written off this company, this industry and this country."

On Thursday, GM announced 47,500 blue collar workers in the U.S. will each get a profit-sharing checks next month -- checks of approximately $7,000 a piece.

  • Dean Reynolds
    Dean Reynolds

    Dean Reynolds is a CBS News National Correspondent based in Chicago.