General Motors' ( GM) embattled CEO, Richard Wagoner, late Tuesday defended his handling of the idea for a landmark partnership with two foreign-based competitors. In an interview with CNBC, Wagoner said he was "completely open" to exploring an alliance with French automaker Renault and Japan's Nissan, denying media reports that he initially had strong opposition to the idea. Those reports lent to a popular perception that Wagoner was strong-armed into considering the idea by GM's most prominent activist shareholder, Tracinda Corp. "Nothing could be farther from the truth," Wagoner told the cable network. "From day one, when this idea was presented, I said we'd take a good look at it. Tracinda, an investment firm headed by Las Vegas mogul Kirk Kerkorian, went public with its support of partnership negotiations in late June, well before Wagoner weighed in on the subject publicly. Reports citing unnamed sources then circulated that Kerkorian's board representative at GM, Jerome York, had lost faith in Wagoner. That led to speculation that Tracinda was seizing on the partnership idea to grab more power over the world's largest automaker. Last Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Wagoner was planning to treat the proposal as "a hostile move against management," according to "individuals familiar with the company's thinking." The next day, GM released a statement announcing its
intentions to explore the partnership , which specified that Wagoner had promptly contacted Carlos Ghosn, the chief executive of both Renault and Nissan, right after the possibility of a deal was raised. It said they "agreed to meet at a mutually convenient time to have an initial exploratory discussion." Now, Wagoner and Ghosn will meet Friday to begin talks. "We're looking forward to sitting down, and our minds are completely open," Wagoner told CNBC. "Our job is to keep our turnaround in North America and around the world going and moving rapidly. And if there's a way to add additional value for our shareholders, we're going to be the first to recommend that."