General Motors Co. will seek some relaxation of executive pay restrictions imposed by the U.S. government as a condition of providing $50 billion in bailout and bankruptcy financing.
The automaker's chief executive, Dan Akerson, told the Washington Economic Club that he would meet with the Obama administration's acting special paymaster, Pat Geoghegan, to discuss the matter.
"We have to be competitive and attract and retain great people. We've been able to do that. But we're starting to lose them," Akerson said.
He suggested that it might be in the interest of the government, which reduced its majority ownership stake to about a third in GM's blockbuster share offering last month, to relax pay restrictions.
Akerson, meeting briefly with reporters after his remarks to policymakers, Washington political heavyweights, and industry insiders, would not elaborate on his plans for the meeting.
Neither Akerson nor Mark Reuss, GM's North American president who met with reporters in Detroit, would discuss departing personnel or any areas where the company was experiencing an erosion of executive talent.
U.S. Treasury officials said the paymaster's office, established to oversee compensation of companies that accepted corporate bailout cash, routinely meets with executives.
"This is a typical process for firms under the special master's purview," said Treasury spokesman Mark Paustenbach.
GM shares were unchanged at $33.74 in afternoon trading on the New York exchange.
Treasury Department restrictions generally limit annual base salary of senior GM executives to $500,000 in cash, although top executives have received permission to earn more. Under this plan, cash compensation was reduced 31 percent in 2009 compared to 2008 levels, the year prior to GM's bankruptcy.
There are some exceptions on compensation tied to the performance of the company. There are no bonus guarantees, including those offered to retain employees. Any additional compensation should be invested in stock plans that include deferred awards, extended holding requirements and forfeiture clauses.
GM is required annually to provide the Treasury with a description of each compensation plan for senior executives.
GM currently is not offering raises to executives.
Akerson, a former head of buyouts at Carlyle Group who took up the GM CEO post in September, makes $1.7 million in salary and more than $7 million in deferred and restricted stock.
Executives at Chrysler, which also received a bailout and bankruptcy financing from the government in 2009, face similar restrictions on compensation.
Ford Motor Co. executives did not take bailout money from the government and face no outside restrictions on compensation.
Ford CEO Alan Mulally took a 30 percent pay cut in 2009 and earned $1.4 million in salary, according to the latest figures. His compensation jumped to $17.9 million when stock was included.
In Akerson's speech to the economic club, one of his highest profile public appearances since the stock offering, he said GM was determined to never repeat the missteps that led to its 2009 bailout and its historic bankruptcy.
"We are humbled by our near-death experience," he said.
Akerson said GM was positioned to break even if industry-wide auto sales were to retreat and was "better positioned" than other automakers to take advantage of the "huge growth potential" of China, India and Brazil.
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