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NINETY EIGHT REGENCY

GM honchos are in state of flux

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GM honchos are in state of flux

BY TOM WALSH

FREE PRESS COLUMNIST

And the revolving door at General Motors' Renaissance Center headquarters keeps on turning, ushering in new bosses and whisking out the old.

On Wednesday came news that 78-year-old Vice Chairman Bob Lutz will retire, again, on May 1 and that a new vice president of communications, Selim Bingol, will replace Chris Preuss, who held that job for seven months before being named to a bigger job Tuesday as head of GM's OnStar unit.

This management version of musical chairs has played out, in fits and starts, ever since GM exited Chapter 11 bankruptcy under government control last July and President Barack Obama tapped Ed Whitacre as GM's new chairman.

Maybe the music will stop soon, maybe not. Here are a few thoughts about the meaning of it all so far:

Whitacre, 68, the former AT&T boss who donned the CEO's mantle in December after Fritz Henderson got the ziggy, clearly wants his own trusted eyes and ears in key posts where GM communicates with the public. Thus, his December appointment of John Montford and Bob Ferguson, trusted hands from their AT&T days together, to run GM's government affairs office in Washington, D.C.; and Wednesday's naming of Bingol, a former AT&T communications honcho.

Mark Reuss, 46, president of GM North America, has emerged as the ascendant "car guy" among veteran GM insiders, now that the legendary Lutz, who revamped GM's car and truck lineup during the past decade, is retiring again. Vice Chairman Tom Stephens remains head of product development, but it's Reuss who has been promoted twice in the past few months and forcefully presented a shake-up of GM's sales and marketing structure on Tuesday.

Steve Girsky, 47, meanwhile, is the big strategic brain on the strategy side who will play a key role in the shape and timing of GM's eventual emergence from 61% government ownership, via sale of stock to the public or other interested parties. Girsky, 47, a former Wall Street analyst and private equity manager, is both a GM director and Whitacre's recent appointee as vice chairman of corporate strategy and business development.

Whitacre's new Washington team has brought the CEO candid assessments of the political scene and unrest among GM dealers in the U.S., which helped inform the decisions on the new people and roles in sales and marketing slots.

And Reuss, from his handling of Tuesday's shake-up, clearly has taken Whitacre's mantra of accountability and urgency to heart. "This is my team," Reuss said Tuesday. "We need change agents ... We've got great products, and we've got to start selling (them)."

It's too soon, with consumer sentiment still shaky and stiff competition from Ford and several strong foreign brands, to know whether Whitacre's got the right turnaround team in place yet at GM.

But the place ain't dull, that's for sure.

link:

http://www.freep.com/article/20100304/COL06/3040487/1331/BUSINESS01/GM-honchos-are-in-state-of-flux

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