On Tuesday, General Motors’ board of directors asked for and received the resignation of CEO, Fritz Henderson. The request came just eight months after Henderson assumed the reins from then-chairman and CEO, Rick Wagoner.
In a hastily arranged press conference following the board’s meeting with Henderson, Chairman Ed Whitacre announced that he will serve as the company’s interim CEO. He also said that the company will immediately begin an international search for a permanent CEO and president.
Last March, Rick Wagoner was forced to step down as a contingency of the Obama administration’s government-funded restructuring. This latest shakeup is being seen as evidence of the continuing tough oversight being brought to bear by the U.S. Treasury and new directors, headed by Whitacre.
Speaking to reporters at GM’s Detroit headquarters, Whitacre said, "Fritz has done a remarkable job in leading the company through an unprecedented period of challenge and change. While momentum has been building over the past several months, all involved agree that changes needed to be made."
Whitacre was appointed chairman of GM last July by the U.S. Treasury and charged with safeguarding the federal government’s $50 billion investment in the struggling company. Since then, the Obama administration has repeatedly stated that it is not involved in the day-to-day business operations of either GM or Chrysler which received federal aid totaling upwards of $12.5 billion.
Perceived by most as a no-nonsense manager, Whitacre had no previous experience in the automotive industry, but has received what might be described as a “crash course” in the last five months. His unannounced visits to GM plants and straightforward questioning of personnel at all levels have also ruffled some feathers within the company. The 68-year-old Texan has become the face of the new General Motors, appearing in television ads for the company’s “May the Best Car Win” campaign.
He declined to answer reporter’s questions during his brief appearance at Tuesday’s impromptu press conference and gave no concrete insight into the reasoning behind Henderson’s departure.
Although Whitacre apparently has no intention of remaining the company’s CEO, long-term, GM spokesman Chris Preuss said, “These things usually take months, not weeks, to find CEOs and execute this change.” He added, “This was a board-led decision — which is how we’ve been running all along.”
In an e-mailed statement, White House spokesperson Amy Brudage said, “This decision was made by the board of directors alone. The administration was not involved in the decision.”
Preuss would not divulge details concerning what criteria the company will employ in its search for a new chief executive or whether or not it will seek an industry outsider like Whitacre.
In the interim, it appears that GM executives will be called on to step up to the plate as needed. The company’s vice chairman and head of marketing, Bob Lutz, has been tapped to deliver a speech that Henderson was scheduled to give next Wednesday at the Los Angeles Auto Show.