General Motors’s board of directors has elected Rick Wagoner chairman and chief executive officer (CEO), effective May 1, 2003, following the retirement of current chairman Jack Smith, after 42 years of service. Smith will also leave the GM board at that time.

Smith has been chairman since January 1, 1996, and held the offices of CEO from 1992 to 2000 and president from 1992 to 1998. He was first elected a GM director in 1990.

"Rick is the perfect leader for General Motors going forward. His global experience, commitment to product and technology leadership, his proven track record of continuously improving all aspects of the company's operations, and leadership style, with an emphasis on strong people and strong teamwork, are the right attributes to lead GM into the future," Smith said.

Wagoner has been president and CEO since June 2000, and was previously president and chief operating officer from 1998 to 2000. Prior to that, he was executive vice president and president of GM North America from 1994 to 1998. He became a GM director in 1998.

"The GM board was unanimous in its selection of Rick as the next chairman," said George Fisher, who chairs executive sessions of the board. "While filling Jack's shoes is a formidable task, we are confident that Rick will lead GM successfully in this highly competitive industry. In his recent assignments, Rick has worked closely with the board and proactively drawn upon its diverse experience, and we look forward to continuing and expanding that close working relationship."

Wagoner has been with GM since 1977 and has held a number of executive positions around the world, including vice president - finance of GM Europe, and president and managing director of GM do Brasil, before coming back to the United States in 1992 as executive vice president and CFO.

Wagoner said: "My priorities are clear. We'll continue to bring out 'gotta have' products, compete aggressively in the marketplace, and drive quality and cost improvements, while we work to strengthen our balance sheet.”