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Henderson's turn to go


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Henderson's turn to go



Another day, another H-bomb at General Motors Co.

If Fritz Henderson was not the new board of directors' guy to run a post-bankruptcy GM -- and it seems obvious today that he was not -- now was the time to pull the plug.

If GM is ever going to pay taxpayers back a meaningful chunk of the mountain of money we sunk into saving the company, there must someday be an initial public offering of stock for the U.S. Treasury's 60% ownership stake.

If that IPO is to occur in 2010 or 2011, it would hardly fuel investor confidence to fire the CEO a couple months beforehand.

So if the board doesn't think Henderson is the guy to lead his people to the promised IPO, why prolong the agony?

There's much we don't know

Mind you, I was not in the room for this face-off between Henderson, whom I like, and GM Chairman Ed Whitacre and the rest of the board.

So I don't know whether Henderson was kicked out, or whether he pulled the plug on himself. The latter scenario is plausible -- he told Steve Rattner, the auto industry chief who ousted Rick Wagoner on March 27, that he should be given the CEO's title and a decent window of time to succeed. If Henderson felt the new board was insisting on too much change, or an unreasonable timetable to deliver it, I expect he would have said so.

However the curtain finally went down on Henderson's eight months as CEO, GM has been an organization fraught with insecurity ever since Wagoner's firing and the quick-rinse trip through bankruptcy.

A new governing board was assembled and briefed by President Barack Obama's auto industry task force, whose critique of existing GM management was brutal. The finance, sales and marketing leadership was skewered. Sales boss Mark LaNeve left quickly, but was replaced by another GM insider, Susan Docherty, just as Wagoner was replaced with GM lifer Henderson. Chief Financial Officer Ray Young, meanwhile, has been left twisting in the wind, while recruitment of a replacement CFO drags on.

The on-again, off-again sale of GM's German Opel unit has been an embarrassment. The Saturn and Saab sales fell through. Were these Henderson's fault? Or the GM board's? Or the inevitable results of the new board and the old management not being in sync yet?

A few days ago, I wrote a column about Henderson, saying that if he were a military man he would be a paratrooper, a special-operations guy that you drop into a hot spot to take out a problem or secure a strategic target.

It's always great to have people like that on your team.

But was Henderson a visionary? Or a grand strategic thinker?

I wrote that I didn't know, because GM hadn't deployed him that way.

The GM board of directors decided Henderson was not the guy, for whatever reason, to lead GM to a successful IPO.

Let's hope they find the right him or her in a hurry, because what's left of the GM leadership team must be feeling pretty shaky.

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