With Rick Wagoner forced out as GM CEO this week, GM number two Fritz Henderson finds himself elevated to the top job.

An accountant by training, Frederick (Fritz) A. Henderson will need to draw on all his financial experience as GM’s battle for survival enters a new and critical stage.

President Obama’s task force has determined that GM requires further remedial works to prove viability and that it does not yet have a suitable plan.

Fritz Henderson is viewed within GM as a capable manager and while he may be a GM career man, he also comes with the benefit of wide experience within the organisation. Moreover, he’s been at the heart of current restructuring efforts.

Reporting to Henderson in his COO role were GM’s four regional presidents, as well as the global leaders for powertrain, quality, manufacturing and labour relations, and purchasing and supply chain.

Born in Detroit, Michigan, on November 29, 1958, Henderson earned a bachelor of business administration degree with high distinction from the University of Michigan in 1980, with an emphasis in accounting and finance. He was a pitcher on the varsity baseball team in 1978-1979. He also received a master’s degree in business administration from Harvard Business School in 1984, where he graduated as a George F. Baker Scholar.

Henderson started his career at General Motors in 1984 as a senior analyst in the Treasurer’s Office in New York. After holding a variety of financial assignments, he was transferred to GMAC in 1989 as director of mortgage banking. He was promoted to several positions of increasing responsibility until becoming GMAC group vice president of finance in Detroit in 1992.

In 1994, he was appointed executive in charge of operations for the former Automotive Components Group in Pontiac, Michigan, and then became a GM vice president and general manager of Delphi Saginaw in May 1996.

Henderson has also served GM overseas.

From 1997 to 2000, Henderson was GM vice president and managing director of GM do Brasil with responsibilities for GM operations in Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay. In June 2000, Henderson was named group vice president and president of GM Latin America, Africa and Middle East (LAAM) headquartered in Florida, and in January 2002, he moved to Singapore as president of GM Asia Pacific.

In 2004, Henderson assumed responsibility for GM’s European operations as GM group vice president and chairman of GM Europe, based in Zurich, Switzerland.

Prior to graduate school, Henderson was a certified public accountant, working for PriceWaterhouse in Detroit. He received the William A. Paton Award for achieving the highest score in Michigan on the May 1980 CPA examination; he also received the Elijah Watt Sells Award for attaining one of the top 100 scores in the US.

He’ll perhaps need that head for figures more than ever over the next few weeks.

just-auto interview with Fritz Henderson – Paris Auto Show, October 2008