Overhaul: a tell-all account of rescuing GM and Chrysler

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Steven Rattner’s Overhaul: An Insider’s Account of the Obama Administration’s Emergency Rescue of the Auto Industry will not disappoint readers with its poignantly detailed narration of the harrowing events surrounding the fate of two of the Big 3 U.S. automakers.

Almost regardless of where readers’ interests may lie, the stories within his story are plentifully intriguing, such as GM and Chrysler’s pitiful plight, the government’s intervening in private enterprise, the behind the scenes of the Obama administration, the 363 bankruptcy plan, the importance of corporate governance, and more. From these stories, some quite suspenseful, we learn of the exceptional efforts of “Team Auto,” and some non-Team Auto individuals, that otherwise we likely would have never heard of or been able to appreciate. Likewise, the reader is served platters of distastefully asinine attitudes and actions of certain individuals especially amongst the automakers and government, which exemplify, in my opinion, why we found ourselves in a great financial crisis, and why outside of the auto industry, in many respects we may have let a “good crisis go to waste,” as Rattner himself conveys in the epilogue to Overhaul.

Rattner (who loathed the label of “car czar”) and his task force dubbed “Team Auto,” accomplished an amazing feat with their facilitation and oversight of restructuring both GM and Chrysler. Less than a year and a half after Rattner and company completed their work, the “Shiny new GM” — as Team Auto referred to the restructured General Motors out of bankruptcy — is re-listed on the NYSE under the same old “GM” ticker. The government’s direct investments in GM totaled $49.5 billion, according to a table of auto bailout-related investments made by the government (epilogue, pg. 297). Of this staggering figure, $13.5 billion has been recouped following GM’s November IPO and over-allotment, raising the to-date recovery to $23.1 billion. And the government still has a 33% stake in GM worth $17 billion. Overall, Rattner notes that the government invested $82.1 billion in GM, Chrysler, Chrysler Financial, GMAC, warranty programs, and a supplier support program.

While Rattner voiced some regrets in terms of wishing he and Team Auto negotiated harder terms in some instances during the restructurings, by and large he views the overhauls as successes. I tend to agree after reading Overhaul, despite having been rather skeptical beforehand. I respect Rattner’s candor and am not bothered by what some may regard as his ego sprinkled throughout. I highly recommend Overhaul and think that it is of particular importance to government officials, politicians, and corporate executives. Imagine the benefits should the aforementioned group read the book and operate more morally and efficiently. Kudos to Rattner and his publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, for publishing the accounts of the egregiously self-serving likes of Sheila Bair (FDIC chairperson), a number of Congresspersons, Jimmy Lee (J.P. Morgan investment banker), and Tom Lauria (bankruptcy lawyer representing select hedge funds holding Chrysler debt). There’s also the case of Ray Young, former CFO of GM, and since February 2010, VP of GM in China. As CFO, his utter incompetence and apparent lacking cognizance of such as Rattner described him, is disturbing, but in the end it’s understandable given GM’s long demise and death spiral in 2008-2009.

Disclosure: The author of this review does not own stock in any companies mentioned.