Liking What He Sees, GM's Whitacre to Stay on as New CEO

Ed Whitacre is a 'temp' no more. The General Motors chairman of the board, who took over as interim chief executive officer following the ouster of Frederick "Fritz" Henderson in December, is making the post permanent. Whitacre made the announcement to a group of reporters at a hastily arranged press conference Monday morning in Detroit. The decision was reached last week during a special meeting of GM's board in which the former AT&T (T) CEO was asked to stay on permanently.Having spent the last months meeting with employees, customers and dealers, as well as working with his new leadership team, Whitacre said he was "both honored and pleased" to take the position. "So I'm going to do it for a while," the 68-year-old Texan said in a folksy drawl. "This is a great company. It has a terrific future, and I'd like to be a part of it," said Whitacre, adding that with his decision, the company had officially ended its search to fill the post.

It is still unknown how much Whitacre will be paid as CEO. Those details will emerge in the next few days, he said. Whitacre did confirm that he would maintain his chairman's title and had little expectation that a president or chief operating officer would be hired. Whitacre also said he would still commute from his Texas home, but would be spending "more time" in Detroit, where GM is based.

GM Gaining Momentum

Whitacre said his company had come long way in a short period of time, having revamped its leadership team and shed half its brands. The company, which received $6.9 billion in loans from the U.S. government, emerged from bankruptcy in July. It ended 2009 selling fewer cars than in 2008, but with more momentum on its side as sales accelerated in the last weeks of December.

"Most importantly," he said, "our products are more appealing to our customers, they're winning awards and we've stabilized our market share." Whitacre also said the company is ahead of goals detailed in its viability plan.

It's due to that progress that Whitacre said he could confirm with certainty that the company will pay back loans given to it by the U.S. and Canadian governments in June "in one lump sum." Whitacre called the expected repayment "a significant milestone in our journey back to being a profitable and a viable company."

The next milestone, Whitacre said, will be GM's public offering, allowing the company's stock to be traded on U.S. markets again and allowing the government to divest its investment in "an orderly and timely manner." He gave no deadline for the IPO, but said the company wanted to initiate the public offering as soon as possible, "but we're only going to do it when the market conditions and internal conditions are right."

Whitacre also addressed rumors still swirling around Saab, GM's Swedish luxury car unit. As of Monday, Whitacre said, GM hadn't changed its decision to wind down the company's operation, despite "advanced talks" with Spyker Cars. "We do not have deal to announce this morning," he said.

Asked by a reporter what triggered his decision to take the CEO slot permanently, Whitacre answered that it wasn't an intentional decision. "But as so often happens, you get in the middle of something . . . and you sort of get pulled in," he said. "I didn't know that it was going to happen to me -- in fact, I planned for it not to happen, but it happened anyway."
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