Blog: Situation vacant at GM - never a dull moment
Dave Leggett | 2 December 2009
You can maybe see where GM's board is coming from with the Fritz Henderson situation, but I'm not convinced it looks well handled. Sure, Henderson was a 'GM person' but he had steadied the ship in the recent unprecedented and rocky times.
A smooth transition might have been the preferred route, GM quietly on the lookout for someone external - a 'name' - to take the CEO role on a permanent basis and elevate GM to a new level, galvanise the whole firm the way Mulally has at Ford. Maybe Henderson could have dropped hints that he would step down from the CEO role 'soon', but that he would carry on in a supportive capacity of some sort in the future if that was appropriate.
Yesterday's abrupt departure looks clumsy. What does it say? Even that was not communicated very clearly: 'all involved agree that changes needed to be made' was what the official statement said.
The downside to losing Henderson like this is that it will not play well with a sizeable body of GM's employees and dealers who will be concerned about possible instability. Henderson was seen as a very capable technocrat and stabilising influence; he was trusted by many inside GM. Perhaps that was precisely why some wanted him out, to quicken the process of change and to create a viable GM on a shorter timescale than current progress suggested. Seems a bit unfair though – what could be done more quickly? Where is the foot-dragging?
GM needs a blend of old and new in its top management; you absolutely need people who know the car business and have valuable experience mixing with talented people from outside the biz with good business brains (behind Mulally at Ford are people highly acquainted with Ford and the car business, like Mark Fields).
Is GM getting the balance right? I guess the GM board is well aware of these arguments and has decided change is more important than continuity at this point. Perhaps Henderson wouldn't let go of the reins quietly and it therefore had to come to this. It is a bit messy though and it makes you wonder about the politics that goes on behind closed doors.
A lack of clarity on why Henderson has suddenly gone and what it means won't help.
I wonder how many people fancy that GM CEO position on a permanent basis. It is one hot seat but it would never be dull...
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