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Whitacre tightens grip on GM as CEO, endorses top managers

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Whitacre tightens grip on GM as CEO, endorses top managers

Chrissie Thompson

and Jesse Snyder

Automotive News -- January 25, 2010 - 9:34 am ET

DETROIT -- General Motors Co. Chairman Ed Whitacre said his appointment to lead the automaker indefinitely as CEO will help provide stability to a team that's now “set at the top.”

Whitacre overhauled GM's top executive structure when he took over as interim CEO in December. Among the changes: naming Mark Reuss president of GM North America and Susan Docherty chief of U.S. sales. Today, the company removed “interim” from Whitacre's title.

Whitacre, 68, said he feels no need to make more immediate changes, although most of his lieutenants are GM lifers.

“Everybody here is new to me,” said Whitacre, who joined GM as the automaker exited a U.S.-steered bankruptcy in July. “I think we're set at the top. I think we like what we see.”

Some middle management may need rearranging, he said, but the overall goal is to reduce turmoil.

“This place needs some stability,” Whitacre said in announcing his expanded role during a press conference this morning. “I guess that's me.”

The appointment cements the Detroit 3 as a group run by outsiders. Alan Mulally, Ford Motor Co.'s CEO since 2006, is a former Boeing Co. executive. Sergio Marchionne, Chrysler Group's CEO, is an accountant and lawyer who took command of Fiat S.p.A. in 2004.

Special meeting

Whitacre deferred to the GM board on his status, saying the permanent CEO role was offered to him at a special board meeting last week.

But he clearly sees himself as GM's public face, not only announcing the decision himself but also using today's brief press conference to disclose other business items. Among them: strengthening a pledge to pay back, by June, roughly $8 billion in U.S. and Canadian government loans and reiterating plans to go public as soon as late this year.

Whitacre also said he has not decided how long he'll remain chairman and CEO.

“I'm going to do it for a while,” he said in his address. During questioning, he said he plans to keep both titles as long as he is at GM rather than handing one to a successor.

Whitacre said he will not move to Detroit. He'll keep his home in Texas, where his family is, and continue to commute. He said he will spend more time in Detroit.

GM had been conducting an international search for a permanent leader. Analysts have speculated that Chris Liddell, the former Microsoft CFO appointed Dec. 21 as GM's new finance chief, eventually will succeed Whitacre as chief executive.

“That will be up to the board to decide somewhere down the road," Whitacre said today of Liddell's possible future as CEO.

Whitacre last was a CEO at AT&T Corp. and its predecessor companies from 1990 to 2007. He retired after seeing the largest U.S. telecommunications service provider through seven large acquisitions over a decade.

He becomes the third CEO at the largest U.S. automaker in 10 months.

He succeeded Fritz Henderson, 51, a career GM executive who had risen through company ranks and steered the automaker through its 40-day bankruptcy.

Henderson took over from Rick Wagoner, 56, who was CEO from 2000 until March, when the Obama administration's autos task force ousted him.

Henderson and Wagoner before him each tried to remake GM into a leaner, faster-moving company. As the automaker's survival became dependent on U.S. aid, both were seen as acting too slowly and lacking the credibility of an outsider.

Read more: http://www.autonews.com/article/20100125/OEM02/100129927/1178#ixzz0djP8luSk

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Whitacre should look crosstown to fix arrogant culture

January 25, 2010 - 10:55 am ET

24 commentsRecommend (7) Related Stories

Whitacre tightens grip on GM as CEO, endorses top managers

If Ed Whitacre wants to become General Motors' first thoroughly successful chief executive in a couple of generations, he ought to study the outsiders who are leading his crosstown rivals.

At both Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler, dynamic leaders are making all the people at these large organizations row in the same direction. That's hard at GM, whose insular culture still prompts people to act, despite GM's well-documented failure, as though they're the smartest people in the room, with nothing to learn from outside.

Bankruptcy did not cleanse GM of arrogance.

Whitacre needs to figure out how to improve that culture.

Alan Mulally came in from Boeing. In his aw-shucks, country-boy way he pushed a sclerotic Ford in one clear direction. Mulally has few and grand ideas, and that's what it takes for a CEO.

Like a mantra, his principles are repeated over and over within Ford:

• Be one global Ford, which doesn't do repetitive engineering and design all around the world;

• Emphasize the Ford blue-oval brand, and don't get caught up in small, extraneous businesses;

• Emphasize fuel efficiency and a full lineup from small cars to crossovers;

• Bring technology affordably to the masses; and

• Communicate that it's working.

At Chrysler, the overwhelming force of Sergio Marchionne's intense intellect and stunning, monk-like workaholism has whipped the organization into a rowing team. Everybody knows the challenge, and everybody is pulling together.

After the catastrophe of DaimlerChrysler and the absentee incompetence of Cerberus ownership, Chrysler folks are so happy to know that a powerful adult is in charge that they're happy to follow Marchionne into crazy-long work weeks.

GM has tremendous technical capability, and lots of good people. Under Vice Chairman Bob Lutz, now Whitacre's adviser, GM became more global and developed first-class vehicles.

Ed Whitacre's challenge is not to specify future cars or advertising campaigns or even to reorganize the engineering organization. It's to develop a sense of humility within GM that allows the organization to hear what consumers want.

GM needs a learning culture, and needs to treat its suppliers, dealers and consumers with a lot more respect.

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