Brainfood: Decisions - Rick Wagoner, CEO, General Motors

My best was investing in China. The ex-mayor of Shanghai once told me: 'The problem here is to replace these darn bicycles with cars.' Either he was pandering to the audience or he was a fantastic visionary.

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Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

It has been terrific for us. Buick wasn't going to be a global brand, but the Chinese said we'd get the business if we used it. So we thought: 'That's a good idea, we'll use Buick.' You feel uneasy about such decisions. Our initial investment was $750 million, and you don't want to go back to the board and say 'whoops' on that. It's a bet. You have to look at how it might be a home run, or under what conditions it'll be a disaster.

Some of our competitors made bets that didn't work so well - Toyota had 2% market share then and it has 2% now - but it has worked for us. We've grown from less than 1% to 12%. There are huge numbers in China who haven't been close to buying a car until now, and the market will be the second or third largest national market in the world this year. You don't want to be the guy who misses out on that.

My worst was putting money into fuel cells, developing the EV1 engine, was a huge financial drain. That wasn't bad in itself, but we didn't take the next step and invest in other technologies, such as hybrids.

So now we're scrambling, spending more on hybrids to catch up. I'm thinking, 'Jeez, I wish we'd called that differently', but it takes a lot of guts to keep that kind of investment going in the face of general financial pressures.

People ask me why we're so obsessed with post-retiree healthcare, when the cost is only $6 billion a year and our revenue is $190 billion. But if you're not running every aspect of your business in a competitive way, then whatever's not competitive is sucking money away from other parts. What could we have done between then and now to address the issue? It's not about us deciding to change - we have to negotiate with the union. People say we should have been tougher with them, but when you're on the 60th day of a strike and you've lost several billion in cash, people don't applaud you for being tough or smart.

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