GM Abruptly Fires CEO - Now What?

Last Updated Dec 2, 2009 3:05 PM EST

Board Fires GM CEO HendersonGM's board abruptly fired CEO Fritz Henderson today. At least that's Reuters' take on it. The AP says he resigned, but if this quote from a GM spokesman is any indication, I'd say he was fired: "The board decided -- and Fritz agreed -- that given where we are, it was time to make some changes."

My initial reaction was, "Why am I not surprised?" -- something my wife is fond of saying, although she's usually referring to me doing something stupid. But now that I've had some time to think about it, my reaction is, "Why am I not surprised?" as well as "Is this part of the plan?" and "What now?"

What now, indeed. It was just a year ago when, against all reason, the Bush administration bailed out GM and the other American dinosaurs, I mean automakers.

Then, in March, the Obama administration ousted CEO Rick Wagoner -- which was a real shame because he had such a great name for the auto business -- and installed GM lifer Fritz Henderson at the helm of what we in the corporate world would typically call the "troubled" auto maker, although GM blew right by "troubled" and landed in deep you-know-what years ago.

And then, in typical bass-ackwards fashion, the federal government dumped six of the outside board directors and replaced them with seven newbies, making the odds that Henderson would remain in the saddle for any reasonable length of time astronomically small.
And now, of course, Henderson's out. And why is that? Does the board want to take the company in a different direction? Really? And what direction would that be? I mean, this isn't rocket science. Unconstrained by a mountain of debt following the fastest Chapter 11 restructuring in history, GM should have a relatively straightforward agenda: begin to operate like a normal company.

That means figuring out what your core competency is and focusing on that while jettisoning the rest for as much as you can get for it, if anything. And "anything" doesn't appear to be much. The company's already shutting down Pontiac. It backed out of a deal to sell Opel. It's got a Chinese company interested in Hummer, but no such luck for Saturn or Saab. GM's decided to keep four "core" brands: Chevrolet, Buick, Cadillac, and GMC -- which I think are at least two brands too many, but that's just me.

Maybe when this board of directors gets to find its own knight in shining armor -- and yes, it will take a gallant soul to take this job -- General Motors can finally get down to the business of trying become a normal company. Maybe, but don't count on it. The board may be new, and the chief will be new, but somehow, I get the feeling that there's still an awful lot of water lurking under the GM bridge.

[Image of Mr. Henderson courtesy GM - although it was tough to find since the company had already removed his pic from the board of directors page]