UPDATE 4-GM CEO Henderson departs in shakeup by board

Wed Dec 2, 2009 12:31am EST

Related Topics

 * GM Chairman Whitacre becomes interim CEO
 * Henderson steps down at board's request -source
 * Search begins for new CEO; outsider seen likely
 (Recasts, adds links to related stories on Saab, Whitacre and
Henderson)
 By David Bailey and Soyoung Kim
 DETROIT, Dec 1 (Reuters) - General Motors Co's [GM.UL]
chief executive Fritz Henderson abruptly resigned on Tuesday,
after the company's board decided the automaker needed to push
its restructuring faster under new leadership.
 Henderson was asked by the board to step down at a meeting
in Detroit after being on the job for just eight months,
according to a person with direct knowledge of the matter.
 GM Chairman Ed Whitacre, 68, will become interim chief
executive as the automaker begins an immediate search for a
replacement, the company said.
 The announcement of Henderson's sudden departure
underscored the tough oversight being exerted by a slate of new
GM directors led by Whitacre and selected by the automaker's
majority shareholder, the U.S. Treasury.
 Henderson, 51, became CEO in March after his predecessor,
Rick Wagoner, was forced out by the Obama administration as
part of the U.S. government-funded restructuring of GM.
 "The board decided -- and Fritz agreed -- that given where
we are, it was time to make some changes," GM spokesman Chris
Preuss said at a hastily arranged news conference.
 Whitacre, a former AT&T (T.N) chief executive, became 
chairman of GM in July as part of a new board vetted by the
U.S. Treasury and intended to safeguard the government's $50
billion investment in the automaker.
 The U.S. government has a 60-percent common equity stake in
GM with $10 billion in debt and perpetual preferred shares, but
the Obama administration has repeatedly said that it is leaving
oversight of the company to Whitacre and the board.
 "This decision was made by the board of directors alone.
The administration was not involved in the decision," a White
House spokeswoman said.
 LOOKING FOR THE NEXT MULALLY?
 Whitacre, who became the public face of GM in its first ad
campaign after bankruptcy, appeared briefly before reporters at
GM's headquarters in Detroit but did not take questions on why
the board had chosen to part ways with Henderson.
 "While momentum has been building over the past several
months, all involved agree that changes needed to be made,"
Whitacre said.
 Whitacre, a plain-spoken Texan who said he knew nothing
about the auto industry when he became GM chairman, has
surprised GM insiders by making unannounced plant visits and
putting blunt questions to workers at all levels.
[ID:nSP198670]
 With his move to become GM's acting CEO, all three U.S.
automakers are now headed by outsiders to Detroit.
 Ford Motor Co (F.N) CEO Alan Mulally left Boeing Co (BA.N)
in 2006. Chrysler is now run by Fiat SpA (FIA.MI) CEO Sergio
Marchionne.
 Whitacre has complained that pay restrictions imposed on GM
have made it hard to hire external talent, but the board will
likely look for an outsider who can better sell the vision of a
revived GM, analysts and industry executives said.
 "Whitacre wants an outside CEO. He's looking for another
Alan Mulally," said Logan Robinson, a longtime auto industry
executive and professor at the University of Detroit Mercy
School of Law.
 Henderson, a career GM executive, had vowed when he became
CEO to reform the slow-moving culture that contributed to the
automaker's collapse. [ID:nN01525203]
But GM's faltering efforts to sell off its laggard brands
dominated Henderson's short tenure and tarnished his reputation
as a dealmaker and raised questions about the company's
strategy.
 First, Detroit-based dealership group Penske Automotive
Group (PAG.N) pulled out of a deal that would have had it
acquire GM's Saturn brand in late September.
 Then last month, GM's board shifted course on a planned
sale of the company's European Opel unit, rejecting a deal that
Henderson had backed and helped broker.
 In the most recent setback, Swedish luxury car builder
Koenigsegg dropped a planned acquisition of GM's Saab brand.
 Last month, in statements that some read as an implicit
rebuke of Henderson, Whitacre seemed to question the aggressive
timetable for an initial public offering of GM stock that had
been outlined by Henderson.
 "At the end of the day, it seems a little bit inevitable,"
said David Bitterman, managing director at Huron Consulting.
"Obviously, Whitacre and Fritz didn't envision the new GM in
the same way."
 GM's board said on Tuesday it would consider other
potential deals to sell Saab over the next month but wind down
its operations if it concluded that none could be
reached.[ID:nN01514083]
 (Reporting by David Bailey, writing by Kevin Krolicki; editing
by Patrick Fitzgibbons and Matthew Lewis)
 ((kevin.krolicki@thomsonreuters.com; + 1 313 300-7272)) 
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