Final Inspection

Whitacre to Rule GM With Intensity

When Ed Whitacre hinted to journalists at the recent Detroit auto show that General Motors needed a full-court press to convince consumers there was a new GM, he didn’t mention the possibility of his being crowned king.

But that in essence is what has happened, as the GM board of directors today officially names Whitacre the auto maker’s permanent CEO.

Now it’s up to the can-do guy to get the job done, as GM ends its international search for a new CEO only two months after it was started.

Whitacre, who took over as GM chairman shortly after the auto maker exited bankruptcy in July, added the additional role of CEO when the auto maker ousted Fritz Henderson late last year. While an industry search to fill the seat has been under way, more than a few industry observers have suggested the tall Texan might take the job himself.

Whitacre did little to discourage that thinking, telling some journalists he was enjoying his role and telling others he didn’t know how to be a chairman; his background and experience has been a hands-on chief.

But he also has made clear he considered his stint as CEO as an interim move and that newly appointed CFO Chris Liddell, formerly of Microsoft, could be a candidate for the position.

Other, more familiar names have been raised by the media.

These include GM insiders Nick Reilly, recently named by Whitacre as CEO of Adam Opel, GM’s European operation, and Mark Reuss, former head of GM Holden’s Australian subsidiary and now vice president-global vehicle engineering. Each has vast experience in the international auto industry.

Both men are making their mark shaking up the old thinking and carving out new strategies. As importantly, both have a passion for product.

Whitacre, on the other hand, admits he is new to the industry. In this he has something in common with Ford CEO Alan Mulally, who came from Boeing.

If the former chief of telecommunications giant AT&T is anything, he is intensely focused. GM may not see a net profit this year, as Whitacre earlier suggested. But the man of few words most certainly will make sure the company hears loud and clear what the customers want.

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What's Final Inspection?

WardsAuto editors share insights and observations on the global auto industry.


David E. Zoia

As Editorial Director, I oversee much of what goes into, enjoying a ringside seat that lets me observe up close just about every facet of the industry worldwide. I have covered the...

James M. Amend

James Amend is an associate editor at, covering day-to-day business and product news at General Motors. He also leads coverage of regulatory and environmental issues, as well as the...
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