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Whitacre says GM is ‘close’ to appointing new CFO

Whitacre says GM is ‘close’ to appointing new CFO

Automotive News | December 8, 2009 – 1:09 pm EST


DETROIT — General Motors Co. has “a real good candidate” for a new CFO and could have news about the appointment in two or three weeks, Chairman and interim CEO Ed Whitacre said today.

“We’re close,” Whitacre said in a Web chat with reporters.

The statement marked the first time GM has acknowledged it is looking to replace CFO Ray Young, although news outlets have widely reported the search.

Whitacre took over as CEO a week ago, when Fritz Henderson was dismissed after eight months in GM’s top job. On Friday, Whitacre appointed several GM executives to new executive positions, such as engineering boss Mark Reuss to president of GM North America.

During today’s Web chat, Whitacre was asked how much time the new executives have to show results before they are replaced as Henderson was.

“Not long. :-),” Whitacre typed.

Whitacre said he is not open to bringing in a COO or a president to help lead day-to-day operations. He also said director Steve Girsky is serving as an adviser to top management on both “external and internal views” of GM. Girsky is a former Wall Street analyst who advised former CEO Rick Wagoner for about a year through mid-2006. He fills the UAW’s seat on GM’s board.

“After four days on the job, he’s doing excellent work,” Whitacre said of Girsky’s advisory role.

GM does not plan to reinstate the position of vice president of North American marketing and advertising, Whitacre said. Mike Jackson filled that position when Mark LaNeve, former U.S. sales and marketing chief, killed it in June 2007.

“I think Mr. Reuss and Mrs. Docherty will do a great job going forward,” Whitacre said in addressing a question about the advertising post.

Susan Docherty last week was appointed vice president of sales, service and marketing for the United States.

Hungry for share

Whitacre also said:

• He is not satisfied with GM’s current market share. When he was asked for specific targets, he said: “As much as we can get.” GM’s market share this year through November was 19.8 percent, down 2.3 percentage points compared with the same period of 2008.

• He drives a Cadillac CTS-V. He bought a 2008 Chevrolet Tahoe before joining the board and also has a 2005 Chevy Avalanche and a 2005 GMC Yukon XL.

“Too many vehicles for one guy, huh?” he said. When asked whether he liked cars, he answered, “Oh, yes.”

• GM does not have any plans for new job cuts — white- or blue-collar.

• Public sentiment is a priority for GM management. “Maybe number one,” Whitacre said.

• He is in touch with the U.S. auto task force about once a week. The task force has let the board run the company, he said.

• GM does not know whether the U.S. government will lift pay restrictions placed on GM executives once the company pays back its senior debt to the government. The United States will still be a majority shareholder after that debt is paid.

Whitacre has said the pay limits make hiring from the outside difficult, a statement that has become more important now that GM is searching for a new CEO. Only two GM employees — then-CEO Fritz Henderson and one other person — had cash salaries of more than $500,000 after U.S. pay czar Kenneth Feinberg capped GM executive pay in October.

• He has visited several dealerships in his home state of Texas, along with a few other stores.

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