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GM boss Fritz Henderson quits

Over and out: GM president and CEO Fritz Henderson resigned at GM's monthly board meeting.

General Motors president Fritz Henderson calls it quits after eight months

2 Dec 2009

GENERAL Motors president and chief executive officer Fritz Henderson resigned today after eight turbulent months in the job.

He will be replaced temporarily by GM chairman Edward Whitacre while the company searches for a replacement.

GM gave no reason for the resignation, which was tendered at GM’s board meeting in Detroit last night (Australian time), although Mr Whitacre commented: “All involved agreed that changes needed to be made.” A 25-year-veteran of GM and native of Detroit, Mr Henderson took over the reins of the foundering company from Rick Wagoner on March 31 this year as GM slid towards chapter 11 bankruptcy.

While he helped to guide America’s biggest motor company through the darkest hours of the global financial crisis, some of his decisions have met increasingly stiffer headwinds within GM, including in his own boardroom.

He was known to be a proponent of selling GM’s European operations, including Opel and Vauxhall – a strategy that was reversed by the GM board in the past month.

 center imageLeft: GM chairman Edward Whitacre.

He also stood firm against re-badging the Holden-made Pontiac G8 as a Chevrolet for showroom sale in North America – a decision that seemed to conflict with fellow director and vice chairman Bob Lutz’s aspirations for the Commodore-based car.

Mr Lutz will be left to pick up some of the pieces this week when his fills in for Mr Henderson at the launch of the Chevrolet Cruze and other new models at the Los Angeles motor show.

Mr Henderson’s departure was announced in a statement by Mr Whitacre, who was appointed chairman by the US administration’s auto industry task force after it effectively became the company’s number-one shareholder earlier this year when GM became insolvent.

Mr Whitacre, a 68-year-old former CEO of AT&T and motor industry outsider, said Mr Henderson had done a remarkable job in leading the company through an unprecedented period of challenger and change.

“While momentum has been building over the past several months, all involved agree that changes needed to be made,” he said.

“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.” Speculation in the US suggests Mr Henderson was seen as GM old guard, and too entrenched in a culture that many – including the US administration and possibly GM chairman Whitacre – believe needs to be wiped clean if the company is to avoid a repeat dose of this year’s financial disaster that required $US50 billion ($A54b) of taxpayers’ money to avert liquidation.

US auto industry analyst Maryanne Keller told Bloomberg Television: “They’re looking to rebuild the company in a completely different form. They’re looking to bring in someone who has a completely different perspective.” GM is now not only looking for a new global company president in Detroit but also a new executive to run its GM Europe operations – provided it can convince European governments to fund a revamp of Opel and Vauxhall.

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