The General Motors Board of Directors announced late Tuesday that GM CEO Fritz Henderson would be resigning, fueling a firestorm of speculation about the course of the company.
The news, which came following what GM officials noted as an “urgent” media alert of 4:30 p.m. eastern press conference at GM World Headquarters, came as a surprise to most in the industry and clearly many at GM.
The announcement of Henderson’s resignation was made only a few hours after a press release was issued on the eve of the 2009 Los Angeles Auto Show about three live Webcasts at the show to be hosted by Henderson. The Webcasts were to include a keynote address to the Motor Press Guild, a press conference for Chevrolet Cruze and Volt, and a press conference featuring the Buick Regal.
GM Chairman Ed Whitacre Jr. will serve as interim CEO of GM.
“At its monthly meeting in Detroit today, the General Motors Board of Directors accepted the resignation of Fritz Henderson as director, president and CEO of the company,” said Whitacre. “Fritz has done a remarkable job in leading the company through an unprecedented period of challenge and change. While momentum has been building over the past several months, all involved agree that changes needed to be made.”
Henderson’s resignation comes less than a year after former GM CEO Rick Wagoner was ousted from the company, reportedly at the urging of the Obama administration.
By most accounts Henderson was seemingly making significant strides with the government to reorganize GM after the automaker filed for Chapter 11 protection in June.
With the federal government’s assistance, GM emerged from court protection in just 40 days, eliminating a substantial amount of debt and contracts burdening the company.
Henderson then pushed to downsize GM by just focusing on four core brands: Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick and GMC — a move favored by industry critics and government officials alike that suggested the automaker had too many overlapping products and lackluster brands.
As part of the move, GM is winding down Pontiac and was successful in winning a tentative sale of Hummer to a Chinese construction machinery maker. But some of the company’s plans under Henderson’s leadership have hit obstacles.
A bid to sell Saturn to business mogul Roger Penske went sour and the brand is now being liquidated. And according to reports, last week, Swedish sports carmaker Koenigsegg Automotive AB pulled out of a deal to buy Saab.
Whitacre said an international search for a new president and CEO will begin immediately.
“I want to assure all of our employee, dealers, suppliers, union partners and most of all, our customers, that GM’s daily business operations will continue as normal,” said Whitacre. “I remain more convinced than ever that our company is on the right path and that we will continue to be a leader in offering the worldwide buying public the highest quality, highest value cars and trucks.
“We now need to accelerate our progress toward that goal, which will also mean a return to profitability and repaying the American and Canadian taxpayers as soon as possible.”