Harry Wilson Seeks to Shake up GM

NEW YORK – Greek-American Harry J. Wilson, former Goldman Sachs financier and candidate for New York State Comptroller, has placed himself in nomination for a seat on the Board of Directors of General Motors.

A Republican, Wilson was recruited six years ago by President Barack Obama to help overhaul General Motors as part of a government bailout of the company that cost taxpayers $10 billion.

Wilson is urging more changes, and now he has the support of hedge funds.

He told the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) that “GM has a history of ‘underperforming on expectations’ and called on its executives to be more transparent with investors and address what he called ‘shareholder frustration’ at a share price that doesn’t reflect the nation’s booming auto market.

“Mr. Wilson, 43 years old, holds GM shares and represents hedge funds collectively holding more than 34 million of the auto maker’s shares,” the WSJ reports.

He is leading a campaign to have GM buy back at least $8 billion worth of shares by 2016.

“He met privately with GM Chief Executive Mary Barra on February 3 and at that time expressed an interest in joining the company’s board and raised questions about its capital allocations.

“During last week’s meeting with Ms. Barra, Mr. Wilson asked her to consider nominating him and possibly others to GM’s board,” according to WSJ.

A major board of directors fight “is the latest corporate challenge for General Motors as it wrestles with the biggest safety crisis in its history and the recall of tens of millions of vehicles.”

Wilson told the New York Times that “conceded that the company had made huge strides since the bailout, particularly in changing a corporate culture he derided as broken. But under a succession of leaders…the automaker has presided under a largely moribund stock price.”

Wilson has the backing of hedge fund heavy hitters, including David A. Tepper of Appaloosa Management and J. Kyle Bass of Hayman Capital Management.

Since the bailout, GM’s financial behavior has been very conservative, in the belief that it needs a “fortress balance sheet,” that includes $25 billion in cash.

Some of that money has gone toward the costs of the safety crisis. According to the Times, “The recalls took a heavy toll on G.M.’s bottom line. Last week, the company reported net income for 2014 of $2.8 billion, a 31 percent drop from $3.99 billion the previous year.”

“The company in the past has resisted efforts to return a big chunk of its cash to investors and it may do so again. While flush with $37 billion in cash and borrowing power…The company in the past has resisted efforts to return a big chunk of its cash to investors and it may do so again,” according to WSJ.

The Times reports that “As part of their arrangement, Mr. Wilson will receive a share of the profits that the investment generates. Shares of General Motors rose more than 4 percent on Tuesday.

Wilson’s career began at the Blackstone Group, which was founded by Greek-American Pete Peterson.  “In some ways, Mr. Wilson’s move harkens back to the beginnings of his career as a financier,” the Times notes, adding that before he joined the Obama administration’s auto task force, he had worked at Goldman Sachs and the hedge fund Silver Point Capital, where he became an expert on investing in distressed companies.”





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