The recent absence of General Motors Corp. Vice Chairman Harry J. Pearce, who was diagnosed with leukemia last year, at two high-profile company activities again would seem to cast doubts about whether the 57-year-old executive can be considered a legitimate candidate to eventually succeed Chairman John F. Smith Jr.

But GM President and Chief Operating Officer G. Richard Wagoner Jr., who is the other front runner for Mr. Smith's position, says Mr. Pearce remains active in company business. “It's almost a year since his treatment. So it's been a long time. But all the tests at this point are excellent. He's very upbeat, and very much connected with the business. I know Jack (Smith) and he talk regularly. He comes in the office occasionally with small groups and we talk all the time,” says Mr. Wagoner.

Mr. Pearce returned to the public eye in April when he announced a technological collaboration between GM and Toyota Motor Corp. But he did not attend the University of Michigan's industry conference earlier in August and the announcement last week of GM's new Internet business group (see story this page).

Speculation over GM succession plans may not mean much right now anyway. Mr. Smith, 61 and chairman since 1996, says he is not considering retirement.