NZ president of General Motors has one of the most stressful jobs in the world

He's a former Waikato farm boy who is now one of the world's top car executives but not many New Zealanders will recognise the name Dan Ammann.

The former Wall Street banker was appointed as president of General Motors, based in Detroit, US, in January this year - making him one of the most powerful Kiwi businessmen in the world.

General Motors, more than a century old, has revenue of more than US$150 billion ($191 billion).

The 42-year-old also has one of the most stressful jobs in the world - taking over the American company in the midst of it largest car recall.


General Motors is embroiled in a controversy over millions of faulty ignition switches, which have been blamed for 13 deaths in the US with the company fined US$35 million for failing to recall faulty cars earlier.

Ammann had been working as a banker for Morgan Stanley in New York, covering the automotive industry with General Motors as one of his clients.

In 2009 he became an adviser for the GM board over its post-bankruptcy restructuring and by 2010, he was offered the job as vice-president of finance and treasurer with the car company - with the "adviser being the decider".

In Paris for the motor show this week, Ammann told the Weekend Herald's motoring magazine, Driven, that he had thought about the job offer for "only about five minutes" before accepting the position.

A year into the job he was offered the job as chief financial officer before taking over the impressive role of president, working with chief executive Mary Barra and the board of corporate officers.

He is responsible for managing the company's regional operations around the world, the global Chevrolet and Cadillac brand organisations, global product planning, and GM Financial.

Since his appointment as president, he's had "many sleepless nights" as he steers the company through the recall crisis and restoring the brand's reputation in Europe, under the Opel badge, in North America as GM, and in Australia and New Zealand under the Holden name.

Ammann graduated from the University of Waikato in 1994 with a bachelor of management studies with first class honour and as a teenager learned to drive in the back roads of Eureka, just outside Hamilton.

Since joining GM, he's become of the fastest drivers in the company, holding a level-six driving licence, which allows him to test cars at the Nurburgring track in Germany.

He laughed when asked if he picked up some skills by spending his Friday night's driving up and down Hamilton's main drag.

"No, I was living on the other side of the city - but I've always been interested in driving."

He last visited New Zealand 10 years ago for a holiday, but Ammann still has a slight Kiwi accent.

Asked if being a Kiwi was a help or hindrance in international business, he said being a New Zealander "means you can look at things from a different perspective".

His advice for any other New Zealanders wanting to work in international car companies was "just go for it".

But for now his focus is dealing with the fall-out from the worldwide recall of the GM products.

"It's getting better. It's a big company and we've come a long way in recent years and it's been a challenge keeping a big machine running."

While he may be based in North America, he still has Downunder in his focus, with production of Holden's large sedan, the Commodore, ceasing in Australia in 2017.

"As a company we haven't done a very good job about being systemic, we're going to be more expansive moving forward," he said.

"In hindsight, the strength of Commodore may have taken focus off the rest of the portfolio in the market place."

The company will be introducing GM products, in particular Opel vehicles, to New Zealand and Australia though Ammann wouldn't comment on what will be the Commodore replacement.

"It will be a world class vehicle."