GM CEO Ed Whitacre Says He Didn't Mean to Do It

Last Updated Jan 25, 2010 1:52 PM EST

GM Chairman and CEO Ed Whitacre described in personal terms how he morphed into a permanent replacement for the ousted Fritz Henderson.

The process he described wasn't at all the hardboiled process you would associate with one of the world's greatest industrial enterprises, although there were a lot of hardboiled reasons behind the move to make Whitacre the permanent CEO.

In answer to questions, Whitacre sounded like somebody describing, "Here's how I became a stamp collector," or maybe on a more personal level, "Here's how I first realized I was falling in love."

He said he didn't start out to make himself CEO, although there has been a lot of speculation that what would happen, and Whitacre would drop the "acting" part of "acting CEO." "You get in the middle of something, and you like the people, you make some leadership changes that you like ... You sort of get pulled into it, if you would," Whitacre said.

Meanwhile, the GM board -- which Whitacre chairs -- conducted an apparently fruitless search for a permanent replacement as CEO. Other candidates for the job must have known they would have Whitacre, who joined GM after a career at AT&T (T), looking over their shoulder.

"I didn't plan for this to happen to me. In fact, I planned for it not to happen," he said. In an unusual move for GM, today's press conference was hastily convened just over one hour after it was announced.

"One thing led to another, and here I am," he said. "This place needs some stability and I guess that's me."