GM board ousts CEO Henderson; Whitacre is interim replacement

 

GM board ousts CEO Henderson; Whitacre is interim replacement


Jamie LaReau
Automotive News | December 1, 2009 – 4:50 pm EST

 

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.

PRESS RELEASE: GM Statement Attributed to To Chairman Ed Whitacre

At its monthly meeting in Detroit today, the General Motors Board of Directors accepted the resignation of Fritz Henderson as Director, President and CEO of the company.

Fritz has done a remarkable job in leading the company through an unprecedented period of challenge and change. While momentum has been building over the past several months, all involved agree that changes needed to be made. To this end, I have taken over the role of Chairman and CEO while an international search for a new president and CEO begins immediately. With these new duties, I will begin working in the Renaissance Center headquarters on a daily basis. The leadership team – many who are with me today – are united and committed to the task at hand.

I want to assure all of our employees, dealers, suppliers, union partners and most of all, our customers, that GM’s daily business operations will continue as normal. I remain more convinced than ever that our company is on the right path and that we will continue to be a leader in offering the worldwide buying public the highest quality, highest value cars and trucks. We now need to accelerate our progress toward that goal, which will also mean a return to profitability and repaying the American and Canadian tax payers as soon as possible.

In closing, I want to once again thank Fritz Henderson for his years of leadership and service to General Motors; we’re grateful for his many contributions. I look forward to working with the entire GM team as we now begin the next chapter of this great company.

 

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