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NINETY EIGHT REGENCY

Henderson's brief history at GM's helm

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Henderson's brief history at GM's helm

JAMIE LAREAU

AUTOMOTIVE NEWS

DECEMBER 2, 2009 - 4:19 PM ET

DETROIT -- Three months ago, General Motors Co.'s chairman, Ed Whitacre, reportedly issued a warning to senior executives: Improve market share, sales and profits within 12 weeks -- or heads will roll.

Yesterday, CEO Fritz Henderson's head did roll, apparently fulfilling the threat reported in September by the Detroit Free Press. He was ousted from the job he had held since March of this year, when the government fired then-CEO Rick Wagoner.

From the get-go, Henderson, 51, was under pressure to navigate GM through bankruptcy and then increase U.S. market share and restore profits. He might have been the ideal candidate: In his GM career overseas and in Detroit, Henderson had earned the reputation as a go-to guy. But all his experience was nothing compared to the demands he faced in the past eight months.

Here's a month-by-month look at his tenure:

MARCH

March 30: Henderson takes over as CEO. The U.S. government gives GM 60 days to restructure further or face bankruptcy.

March 31: Henderson says GM will sell Saab and Saturn, turn up the heat on bondholders and the UAW for concessions, and likely sell more factories than the 14 outlined in the company's February viability plan.

APRIL

April 17: Henderson says GM has six potential buyers for its European Opel unit.

April 22: GM announces it likely will not make a $1 billion debt payment due June 1.

April 23: GM says it will idle 13 plants for up to nine weeks to save money and cut out 190,000 vehicles from production.

April 27: Henderson says Pontiac will be phased out by 2010, and the U.S. dealership count will be cut in half.

MAY

May 7: GM posts a $6 billion loss and says it burned through $10 billion in cash in the first quarter as sales plummeted.

May 11: Henderson says bankruptcy is now “more probable.”

May 29: An agreement with GM makes Magna International Inc. and its partners the preferred buyer for Opel.

JUNE

June 1: GM files for federal bankruptcy protection.

June 2: GM says it plans to sell its Hummer brand to Chinese equipment manufacturer Sichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machinery Co. Ltd.

June 5: Penske Automotive Group says it will buy Saturn.

June 9: Former AT&T chief Ed Whitacre is named GM chairman.

June 16: Henderson says GM will reduce its executive work force 34 percent from 2008 levels by the end of 2009. GM also says it will sell Saab to Koenigsegg Automotive AB.

JULY

July 10: GM emerges from its 39-day bankruptcy. Henderson says he will run North American operations. Two management boards -- the Automotive Strategy Board and Automotive Product Board -- are replaced by an eight-person executive board. Executive changes include the appointment of Bob Lutz, who has been planning to retire, to vice chairman in charge of marketing and customer relations. GM eliminates strategy boards and presidents for each of its four worldwide regions.

July 23: GM says Troy Clarke, Gary Cowger, Ralph Szygenda, Maureen Kempston Darkes, Michael Grimaldi and Jonathan Browning will leave by year end. Together, they represent more than 180 years of combined service.

AUGUST

Aug. 7: GM says it plans a stock offering within one year of emerging from bankruptcy.

Aug. 11: Henderson says the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid will get a 230 mpg rating from the EPA.

SEPTEMBER

Sept. 10: GM launches a 60-day, money-back satisfaction guarantee. Ads fronted by Whitacre's “May the Best Car Win” challenge announce the program.

Sept. 11: GM ends the 3 to 10 percent pay cuts levied on salaried workers four months previously.

Sept. 30: GM decides to wind down Saturn after Penske backs out of the sale when Renault SA decides it can't supply the brand with vehicles.

OCTOBER

Oct. 8: Mark LaNeve leaves GM as sales boss, and Henderson names Buick-GMC head Susan Docherty to replace him.

Oct. 13: Henderson says consumers are now focused on GM's products and not its government bailout.

Oct. 22: U.S. pay czar Kenneth Feinberg orders Henderson's salary cut 25 percent.

NOVEMBER

Nov. 11: GM opts to keep Opel and terminate the proposed sale to the Magna-led consortium. GM cites improved financial health as the impetus for the decision. On Oct. 21, Henderson had said he supported selling Opel.

Nov. 16: Henderson takes the stage solo to report that GM had a $1.15 billion “managerial net loss” for the period from July 10, the day GM left U.S. Bankruptcy Court protection, through Sept. 30. That was better than the $4.2 billion operating loss reported for the full quarter a year earlier. The automaker hadn't expected to trim its losses this much after its bankruptcy or keep so much cash, he says.

While Henderson calls repaying government loans his personal priority, he says “we cannot be satisfied'' with the loss.

Nov. 24: GM says Koenigsegg has backed out of the Saab sale.

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