Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Creative thinker joins Obama's auto task force

WASHINGTON — Ron Bloom, a key adviser to President Barack Obama’s new auto industry task force, brings a combination of Wall Street savvy, ties to labor unions, and a penchant for out-of-the box solutions to the government-led restructuring of General Motors and Chrysler.

Bloom, 53, a former investment banker who has worked with the United Steelworkers union since 1996, will serve as a top adviser to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner as the Obama administration attempts to revamp two corporate giants living off billions in government loans.

General Motors and Chrysler are scheduled to submit road maps to viability today that show how they will repay $17.4 billion in promised government loans. The companies face a March 31 deadline to complete their plans, or else the government can pull the loans, essentially forcing bankruptcy.

Described as cerebral and blunt-talking, Bloom has been credited for taking creative approaches to managing the downsizing of the steel industry and creating a leaner operating structure. He also advised airline pilots in 1994 in the $4.9 billion employee buyout of UAL Corp., the parent company of United Airlines, and he worked with auto parts supplier Dana Holding Corp. to develop a health care trust fund.

“He’s not someone who brings just a conventional cookie-cutter approach. He’s going to force people to think about new ideas,” said Andy Kramer, a Washington attorney who has sat on the opposite side of the bargaining table from Bloom.

Forgoing a single “car czar,” the Obama administration chose to create a multi-agency panel led by Geithner and White House economic aide Lawrence Summers. Advising Geithner, Bloom will have the day-to-day task of working with automakers, their bondholders and labor unions to force concessions, reprising a similar role he played during the consolidation of the steel industry in the last decade.

A Harvard Business School graduate, Bloom served as a vice president with the Wall Street firm Lazard Ltd., focusing on the steel and airline industries. As a top aide to the steelworkers union’s president, he helped resolve a 10-month strike against the Wheeling-Pittsburgh Corp. in 1997, broker an agreement with Goodyear Tire in 2003, and facilitate Esmark’s successful tie-up with Wheeling-Pittsburgh in 2006.

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