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Whitacre’s lack of auto background doesn’t bother some

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Whitacre’s lack of auto background doesn’t bother some

Shawn Wright

Automotive News -- January 25, 2010 - 2:44 pm ET

DETROIT -- Duane Paddock, co-chairman of GM’s National Dealer Council, says he has all the confidence in the world that Ed Whitacre will lead General Motors Co. to where it needs to be.

Whitacre, who has been interim CEO since Fritz Henderson quit in December, was announced today as the permanent leader of GM.

Some critics have said Whitacre’s lack of experience in the automotive industry -- he was CEO of AT&T Corp. and its predecessor companies from 1990 to 2007 -- is a barrier to the success of GM, which emerged from a brief government-sponsored Chapter 11 bankruptcy July 10.

Paddock, CEO of Paddock Chevrolet in Buffalo, N.Y., sees it differently.

“I think to a certain extent it’s positive. He brings fresh ideas, new ways of doing things,” Paddock said of Whitacre today. “We can’t get caught up in the way we’ve always done it.

“At the same time, I think it’s great that he’s willing to learn. A good businessperson is a good businessperson. A great businessperson is a great businessperson. And Ed is catching on quickly.”

The insular and bureaucratic culture that surrounded GM in the past also has been on the minds of those wondering whether Whitacre will be able to move the company in a more competitive direction.

“I do, without question,” Paddock said. “He’s not been brought up where we’ve done something for a certain amount of time or that change is scary. Change is a good thing. I think, from my interaction with him, he’s not going to be afraid.”

In addition, Paddock welcomes the stability he sees Whitacre bringing to GM.

“I think it’s great. Ed’s been in long enough that he’s got a good grasp,” Paddock said.

Whitacre became chairman last year after GM emerged from bankruptcy.

Van Conway, president and senior managing director at Conway MacKenzie, a suburban Detroit turnaround firm, thinks today’s announcement is going to change the GM culture into one that is more entrepreneurial.

“I think the city has taken to this guy. He’s an impressive guy, and I think he wants to get something done,” Conway said. “He isn’t doing it for the money; he’s doing it because of the challenge.

“He looks like he has the right DNA for the job.”

Conway said he thinks Whitacre looks like a can-do guy who wants to prove a point. Whitacre’s lack of experience in the auto industry doesn’t faze Conway, who thinks that can work out either way.

“Some industries have tried it, and people have come from the outside and failed,” he said. “But a lot of people who have promoted from the inside failed; there’s really no clear formula.

“Inside or outside, people can fail or not fail. I think that when you’ve had crises like GM, it’s probably pretty good to get somebody from the outside.”

Read more: http://www.autonews.com/article/20100125/OEM02/100129907/1178#ixzz0djRUdh48

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