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Fritz Quits: GM Board Makes a Change After Opel Non-Deal

Fritz Henderson resigned as president and CEO of General Motors, ending speculation he might leave, in light of GM reversing course on selling off its Opel/Vauxhall subsidiary in Europe.

In a larger sense, Henderson has been vulnerable all along to criticism that he was too much of a GM "lifer" to distance himself from the train of events that led to GM's bankruptcy earlier this year.

GM Chairman Ed Whitacre announced today that the GM board accepted Henderson's resignation. Whitacre said in a written statement that, "all involved agree that changes needed to be made."

Henderson replaced Rick Wagoner in March 2009, but it seems much longer ago. Henderson stepped up to the plate and shepherded GM through bankruptcy. Wagoner balked at taking that step, and was shown the door by the Obama Administration.

Henderson unflinchingly dropped Saturn, Saab, and Pontiac; cut thousands of jobs; closed several factories; renegotiated GM's obligations to its union retirees; and cut back GM's dealer body.

Since then, some aspects of Henderson's emergency rescue plan for GM have blown up in the company's face, none more so than GM's sudden decision last month to retain Opel after all, after painstakingly lining up support from European governments, especially Germany's.

Whitacre fanned the flames of speculation about Henderson later, when he flatly stated in a speech that GM intends to be a global player, and it couldn't be a global player without Opel. At the time, I have to admit I thought that reading a rift between Henderson and Whitacre into the situation was jumping to too much of a conclusion. I figured GM probably couldn't get the deal it wanted, so it called off the deal. In retrospect, maybe it didn't matter which scenario was true -- either way, the aborted sale happened on Henderson's watch.

Meanwhile, the plans Henderson presumably signed off on to sell Saturn to automotive magnate Roger Penske, and to sell Saab to Swedish supercar maker Koenigsegg have also fallen through.

Whitacre said he will temporarily take over Henderson's duties, while an "international" search begins immediately, to replace him. That "international" could imply Whitacre is leaning towards hiring someone from outside GM, but that's yet to be determined.

Photo: GM

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