DETROIT — General Motors Co’s board of directors ousted CEO Fritz Henderson after eight months, saying it wanted to chart a new course as the biggest U.S. automaker pushes ahead with its restructuring.
Chairman Ed Whitacre, 68. will succeed Henderson on an interim basis while a search for a new president and CEO starts immediately, Whitacre said at a press conference today.
Henderson, 51, guided GM through the automaker’s 39-day bankruptcy in June and July after replacing the fired Rick Wagoner in late March.
The company, which hasn’t posted an annual profit since 2004, is desperately trying to rebound from 2009’s sales collapse.
“Fritz has done a remarkable job in leading the company through an unprecedented period of challenge and change,” Whitacre said. “While momentum has been building over the past several months, all involved agree that changes needed to be made.”
The decision was made today at GM’s monthly board meeting. At the same meeting, the board decided to evaluate potential bids for Saab through Dec. 31 after a deal to sell the brand collapsed last week.
GM Spokesman Chris Preuss said Whitacre, who was appointed chairman in June, does not have long-term intentions to remain CEO.
“These things usually take months, not weeks, to find CEOs and execute this change,” he said.
Whitacre read from a written statement and declined to answer reporters’ questions. Preuss did answer some questions and said Henderson’s resignation was a mutually agreed upon decision by the board and Henderson.
“After a discussion with the board and given where the company currently is, it was a decision by Fritz and the board that it’s best for him to resign,” he said. “It was best to initiate a change in direction and that was the board’s decision.”
Whitacre has an office at GM’s world headquarters in Detroit and he will be there on a daily basis running the company.
Meanwhile, GM’s vice chairman and marketing chief, Bob Lutz, will step in for Henderson at a speech Henderson was due to give Wednesday at the Los Angeles auto show.
GM’s CFO Ray Young remains despite persistent rumors that GM is searching for his replacement.
GM’s largest shareholder is the U.S. government. Preuss said GM informed U.S. officials of the decision to replace Henderson this afternoon. “There were no questions,” Preuss said. “This was a board led decision — which is how we’ve been running all along.”
Preuss declined to specify what criteria GM will use in the search for a new CEO or if they will seek one outside the industry.
White House spokeswoman Amy Brundage said in an e-mailed statement: “This decision was made by the board of directors alone. The administration was not involved in the decision.”
With the appointment of Whitacre, all three U.S. automakers are now headed by outsiders to Detroit.
Ford Motor Co. CEO Alan Mulallly left Boeing Co in 2006. Chrysler, also rescued this year by the U.S. government, is now headed by Fiat S.p.A. CEO Sergio Marchionne.
Reuters, Neil Roland and Charles Child contributed to this report.