Will The Next CEO of GM Be An Auto Industry Outsider?

It seems to be going that way…

By Brendan Moore

12.02.2009

GM logoNow that the dust has cleared from yesterday’s resignation of Fritz Henderson as CEO of General Motors, and it has become obvious that Henderson didn’t jump, but rather, was pushed, the speculation about a successor is rampant.

Ed Whitacre, the chairman of the GM’s newly-active (hyperactive, perhaps) board of directors, and, the guy that did most of the pushing of Fritz Henderson, is known to favor bringing in an auto industry outsider as the next CEO of GM.

Henderson struggled from the start of his CEO tenure with the perception that he was part of the old GM, and therefore would be unable to shake up the company enough to achieve its new business goals. He was a “lifer” at GM, a company man who followed his mentor, Rick Wagoner, the previous CEO, right to the top of GM. Unfortunately, the knock against Henderson was always that he was “Rick Wagoner 2.0”, and he has now followed Wagoner right out the door, via a forced resignation.

Whitacre, the board chairman and now the interim CEO until a successor can be found, is from outside the auto industry himself, and the chatter in Detroit is that he is keen to bring in someone from outside the fairly insular, and somewhat incestuous, auto industry. The template Whitacre has in mind to reproduce is the one over at Ford, where things have turned around considerably since Alan Mulally was hired as CEO from Boeing.

A great many people forecasted the company’s imminent doom when Mulally was hired at Ford, saying the company needed a steady, experienced hand from the auto industry, not someone completely new to the industry. But, instead of going to hell in a handcart as those naysayers predicted, Ford has instead emerged under Mulally as the Detroit auto company that actually seems to have a clue. They are also the only one that has not needed government loans to stay afloat. The hiring of Mulally now looks like a masterstroke, as he has not yet put a foot down wrong in his quest to turn Ford around.

Whatever happens, I have a feeling it will happen soon. Whitacre seems to be in a hurry to get GM going again, and he also seems to be a guy who makes decisions quickly. I don’t believe he wants to be CEO himself, and will look to hand over those reins to his new hire as soon as possible.

COPYRIGHT Autosavant – All Rights Reserved

Author: Brendan Moore

Brendan Moore is a Principal Consultant with Cedar Point Consulting , a management consulting practice based in the Washington, DC area. He also manages Autosavant Consulting, a separate practice within Cedar Point Consulting. where he advises businesses connected to the auto industry. Cedar Point Consulting can be found at http://www.cedarpointconsulting.com.

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8 Comments

  1. Too bad they cannot get a Alan Mulally 2.0

  2. It was only a matter of time since Fritz Henderson was so closely connected with the old GM. I wish him luck, but he probably shouldn’t have been CEO in the first place.

    I have to say, I’m really starting to like this guy Whitacre.

  3. At least they won’t get a Nardelli 2.0. Nardelli was an outsider when he arrived at Chrysler. He had a engineering experience at General Electric but unfortunately he brings it his Home Depot experience at Chrysler.

  4. Very good point, Stephane!

  5. thanks funbag 🙂

    Btw, it could be an “outsider” not not 100% an auto industry outsider. Sergio Marchionne, CEO of Fiat is also now CEO of Chrysler. Marchionne can act as a defacto outsider. (There was also Dieter Zetsche and Schreemp during the Dailmer-Chrysler era) There was an article from June 2009 from the site “The truth about cars” about the spreading rumors of the time http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/gm-ceo-fritz-henderson-going-going-ghosn/ who was titled “Going, going, Ghosn?” The French media is already jumping on the bandwagon http://www.e24.fr/entreprises/transport/article158890.ece/Carlos-Ghosn-pour-sauver-GM.html

  6. I don’t like this guy Whitacre and I think he does want to be CEO. As a commenter said on another site, I think he’s going to pull a Dick Cheney.

    Dick Cheney was asked to find GW Bush a Vice President, and after a short time, came back to Bush and said “the best man for the job is me”.

    So much for his active search efforts.

    That’s Whitacre to a T. I think he’s a meglomaniac.

  7. Whitacre says he may take up to a year to hire another CEO, so he’s going to get plenty of practice as CEO of an auto company.

  8. Whitacre better be careful what he wishes for if his desire to actually run GM, as opposed to just jawing from the sidelines while he’s on the board.

    GM is going to be a tough nut to crack for at a few more years.

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