DETROIT (Reuters) - The board of General Motors Co will get an update on the search for a new chief executive by next month as a recruiting firm compiles a short list of candidates, a person familiar with the process said.
The automaker has also identified a candidate to hire as a new chief financial officer and could have an announcement on that key position by the end of the year, GM Chairman and acting Chief Executive Ed Whitacre said.
Taken together, the steps demonstrate how GM’s board under the oversight of Whitacre has nearly completed the process of replacing or reassigning the senior leadership team that steered the automaker through bankruptcy five months ago.
Whitacre, 68, has moved to put his own stamp on GM’s management and strategy since becoming chairman in July. Since taking over as GM’s acting CEO last week, he has also driven home a message that the automaker must move faster to win back customers, pay back taxpayers and return to profitability.
GM has tapped search firm Spencer Stuart to find a permanent chief executive in a process that will consider candidates outside the auto industry, said the person who asked not to be named because the hiring process is private.
Spencer Stuart also handled the search for Whitacre, who became acting chief executive after the board broke with former CEO Fritz Henderson.
A spokesman for the recruiting company could not be immediately reached for comment. GM had no comment on the search firm’s identity.
Whitacre did not address the CEO search or how long he will be acting chief executive during a 38-minute Web chat with reporters on Tuesday afternoon.
He said GM was close to hiring a replacement for CFO Ray Young.
“We’re close and have narrowed it down and have a real good candidate,” Whitacre said, adding that GM “could have some news in two or three weeks.”
Young has been in discussions about moving to GM’s international operations based in Shanghai, people familiar with those talks have said. GM has declined to comment.
With the replacement of Young, GM’s entire top management team will have changed over this year. Vice Chairman Bob Lutz, 77, who had been charged with heading GM’s marketing efforts, has been made an adviser to Whitacre.
“His role has changed a bit. He is senior adviser to me and top management,” Whitacre said. “We look forward to learning a lot from him.”
Corporate search executives expect GM to stay within the ranks of the U.S. executive class for a new CEO, but say it will face challenges because of a government-imposed limit on executive pay and the strong presence of Whitacre.
‘FOCUSED ON RESULTS’
A former AT&T chief executive, Whitacre has pushed GM’s sales organization to bring down its industry-leading spending on incentives even as the automaker struggles to defend its share of the U.S. market, executives say.
“He’s pretty clear that he wants results,” Susan Docherty, GM’s recently appointed head of U.S. sales and marketing, told reporters on Tuesday. “If he sees things that he thinks are off track, he’s going to hold me and the team accountable.”
When asked how long GM’s new executive team, including Docherty, have to show results, Whitacre said “not long.”
Henderson, 51, had taken over as GM CEO in March at the time that his predecessor, Rick Wagoner, was dismissed by the Obama administration.
GM emerged from a government-funded bankruptcy in July under the nearly 61 percent ownership of the U.S. Treasury, after accepting more than $50 billion in government aid.
Corporate talent experts said a new CEO of GM would have to be able to work beside a strong chairman in the form of Whitacre. Some also believe it is possible that Whitacre would opt to keep the CEO job.
“Ed has been acting more like a CEO than he has chairman and as a result of that, somebody coming into this role is going to have a very high opinion, high velocity, high visibility chairman who has already shown that he is the leader of the board and is making pretty quick decisions,” said Brian Sullivan, CEO of executive search firm CTPartners.
“What you do need almost is more of a chief operating officer than a chief executive officer because this certainly looks to be Ed’s show, but he needs someone to implement the day-to-day,” Sullivan said.
Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, a professor at the Yale School of Management, said he also expected that a new CEO would have a “muted role” at GM under Whitacre after the unexpectedly swift move by the board to break with Henderson.
“The ego issues here are very considerable,” he said.
Reporting by David Bailey and Bernie Woodall; Editing by Tim Dobbyn and Matthew Lewis
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.