Any lingering doubt that Fritz Henderson was pushed from his CEO position atop General Motors yesterday was reportedly cleared up by his daughter, Sarah, who (at least according to the car-blogging Jalopnik.com) posted an obscenity-laced Facebook tirade on the subject. Here’s an excerpt (she used all caps and didn’t say “freaking,” but that’s the word they substitute when cleaning up movies to show on airplanes): “He freaking got asked to step down. All of you freaking idiots, I’m Fritz’ freaking daughter, and he did not freaking resign.”
She also characterized Ed Whitacre, the board chairman who’s taking over as interim CEO, as “a selfish piece of shift,” though one can forgive the mistyping in the heat of the moment.
Maybe it wasn’t really Sarah Henderson, but the sentiment coincides with the popular view that Henderson, generally viewed as part of Detroit’s old guard, was pushed. The former University of Michigan Wolverines pitcher had been with GM for 25 years, and nobody remembers the 1984 product line fondly.
When GM emerged from bankruptcy, Henderson said that he could now “get back to the business of designing, building and selling great cars and trucks and serving the needs of our customers.” But the board, thinking him slow to move, lost confidence in Henderson’s ability to do that.
Henderson was replaced on the podium at the Los Angeles Auto Show with Bob Lutz, another member of the old guard (he said global warming was a “crock of shit,” apparently spelling better than Sarah Henderson). Lutz, apparently still in favor, has retro tastes and loves muscle cars, which may not be “serving the needs of our customers” either.
Although the public owns more than half of GM, the government wasn’t consulted before the board deposed Henderson yesterday. The company hastily arranged a press conference that left some members of the press shouting that the company’s approach to the news was “stupid” — why didn’t they just keep it quiet until a new CEO was hired?
Henderson was a good soldier in taking the company through bankruptcy (see cartoon at left) and making big budget cuts, closing factories and jettisoning Saturn, Saab and Pontiac, but he reportedly clashed with Whitacre over GM’s European Opel division (which Whitacre wanted to retain for credibility as a global player, despite much-publicized efforts and advanced efforts to sell it). Maybe it didn’t help that both the Saab and Saturn deals fell through, leaving both likely to be unceremoniously closed (a decision on Saab is expected by the end of December).
Here’s some of what Whitacre said in a prepared statement yesterday. He didn’t take questions, despite some being shouted at him. There’s plenty to read into the wording of this:
“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. To this end, I have taken over the role of chairman and CEO while an international search for a new president and CEO begins immediately …. 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. In closing, I want to once again thank Fritz Henderson for his years of leadership and service to General Motors; we’re grateful for his many contributions.”
Related on MNN: GM CEO resigns after 8 turbulent months.