GM Chief Fritz Henderson Is Out, Replacement Could Be Worse

Fritz Henderson was ousted for poor performance, and most pundits are glad to see him go

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After six months on the job, GM's Chief Executive Fritz Henderson is out on the street. According to Business Week, he was ousted because he failed to pass Chairman Ed Whitacre's 100-day test to reshape the company. Whitacre, who will take Henderson's place as interim CEO, is part of GM's new board of directors--appointed mostly by the U.S. Treasury Department. While some call the decision risky and grossly unfair, others say it's a necessary shakeup. Here's the latest analysis:

  • Cut Fritz Some Slack! insists Daniel Indiviglio at The Atlantic: "He was at the helm for only eight months. And yes, in that short time he failed to turn GM around. But bear in mind that we're talking about an auto company that has been struggling for many years and that his tenure coincided with one of the worst recessions in recent memory. I don't think a genetically engineered super-CEO created from the DNA of Warren Buffett, Jack Welch, Lee Iacocca and Bill Gates could have turned around GM in the past eight months."
  • Replacing With Whitacre--A Ghastly Mistake, writes Douglas A. McIntyre at 24/7 Wall Street: "Whitacre has no experience running a car company and that means that critical decisions that need to be made at GM while it looks for a CEO will either be made slowly or face a heightened risk of being wrong. It is not clear that GM senior managers will do much to help Whitacre who is viewed as a narcissist interloper. He insisted on starring in a number of the ads GM used to promote its new 60-day test drive program. In the ads he admitted he did not know much about car companies."
  • Henderson Was Too Old School, writes Alex Taylor at Fortune. Henderson, like the rest of GM's managers "were part of a culture at GM that resolutely resisted new ideas over the years, whether they came from competitors like Toyota or internally from the Saturn experiment." Writing in Time magazine, Taylor adds, "Henderson also had the bad luck to have several deals blow up in his face... And just last weekend, a deal to sell Saab to Swedish investors fell apart."
  • GM Needs an Outsider, writes Paul Ingrassia at The Daily Beast: "Whitacre and his board have the cross-town example of Ford, whose hiring of Alan Mulally from Boeing three years ago has been an unqualified success. The new chief executive of General Motors, it is clear, will be somebody from outside the company, and perhaps, like Mulally, from outside the auto industry entirely. The move will be way overdue."
  • Everything's Riding on Whitacre Now, writes the Detroit Free Press editorial board: "Whitacre clearly comes from a corporate background that's a polar opposite of GM -- the world of AT&T where he earned a reputation as a demanding boss who was relentlessly focused on profit and efficiency... For GM's (and Detroit's) sake, Henderson's apparent failure must be Whitacre's shining moment."
  • What's Next? Matthew DeBord at The Big Money muses, "The obvious question now is, If Whitacre chooses to step down as CEO, will he elevate Lutz, or will GM seek fresh blood? And if so, will anyone in or around the White House have a say in who that might be?"
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