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CEO Whitacre To Leave GM

Thu, 08/12/2010 - 12:24pm
Manufacturing.net

DETROIT (AP) -- General Motors Co. chief Ed Whitacre said Thursday he's stepping down as CEO on Sept. 1, his mission accomplished as the company reported its second straight quarterly profit.

Whitacre, 68, will be replaced by GM board member Daniel Akerson. Like Whitacre, Akerson has a background of leading telecommunications companies.

Akerson, 61, will be GM's fourth CEO in 18 months when he takes over the job. He could be the executive who takes GM public again if an expected public offering takes place later this year.

In a conference call with analysts and media, Whitacre didn't directly address a question about whether executives with automotive experience were considered for the job. He said Akerson has learned the auto business in his year on the board.

"Dan has been involved every step of the way," Whitacre said. "He knows this business from a board perspective and also from personal conversations. So I think he's absolutely the right choice."

Bob Lutz, a former vice chairman of GM who retired earlier this year, said in an e-mail that Akerson doesn't need auto experience to run GM because it has a solid management team of industry experts. But he does need to listen to that team, Lutz said

"He's very strong, very opinionated, not always right, and needs to work on listening skills," Lutz said. "If he can bring himself to trust his now-outstanding senior executive group and lead rather than direct, I think he'll do an outstanding job."

Whitacre, Lutz said, had no industry experience but focused the company on designing and building world-class cars and trucks.

Whitacre was named GM's chairman last July when the automaker emerged from bankruptcy protection. After he ousted CEO Fritz Henderson, Whitacre was named interim CEO in December and became permanent CEO in January.

Whitacre, the former head of AT&T Inc., often said in a folksy Texas drawl that he knew little about cars. But he shook up the company with a number of managerial changes, including luring Chief Financial Officer Chris Liddell from Microsoft Corp. He also combined sales and marketing responsibilities and consolidated control of GM's core North American market under one executive.

Whitacre said the board was aware of his plans the day he accepted the CEO job, and he predicted a smooth transition.

"I believe we've accomplished what we set out to do," Whitacre said. GM reported its second straight quarterly profit on Thursday.

A U.S. Treasury spokesman said Whitacre's decision to step down wasn't influenced by the government, which owns 61 percent of GM. The department is grateful for Whitacre's leadership and considers Akerson "proven and well-respected," the spokesman said. The Treasury Department appointed Akerson to GM's board following GM's emergence from bankruptcy protection.

Steven Rattner, the former head of the Obama administration's Auto Task Force, said that after two strong quarters of profitability, it's an appropriate time for Whitacre to step down. Rattner called Akerson "a smart, experienced and tough manager."

Akerson has served on GM's board since July 2009. He has worked for The Carlyle Group, a Washington private-equity group, since 2003.

Previously, he worked in top executive positions at MCI Communications in the 1980s and 1990s. He also served as chairman and CEO of XO Communications Inc., where he oversaw a financial restructuring, and chairman and CEO of Nextel Communications Inc., where he shifted the company from a regional walkie-talkie maker to a digital wireless provider.

Akerson said he does not expect to make big management changes when he takes over for Whitacre in just under three weeks.

He said he knows GM's management well and that Whitacre has made significant changes in his year at the helm. Those changes have pointed GM in the right direction.

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