GM CEO Whitacre Steps Down, Assures a Smooth Succession

General Motors checked off another box today in the checklist leading up to the impending GM Initial Public Offering: "Nix potential investor unease about chairman and CEO succession."

The incumbent, Chairman and CEO Ed Whitacre, insisted all along that he was a reluctant General Motors CEO. He considered it his "civic duty," as opposed to his personal mission in life, to turn around GM as chairman. However, it seemed for a while like Whitacre enjoyed being chairman and CEO more than he let on.

GM was bearing down on an IPO with some doubt whether Whitacre would remain, and if so whether he would keep both chairman and CEO posts. If Whitacre gave up one or both jobs, that raised the question of who would be his successor. Those are big question marks, in a market that dislikes uncertainty.

In the meantime, Whitacre hired ex-Microsoft (MSFT) CFO Chris Liddell to be GM CFO, in December 2009. That created some speculation that Liddell might be in the running to succeed Whitacre in the top job. John Devine, the former CFO of first Ford (F) and then GM once told me years ago in an unrelated situation, "If your CFO isn't considered a candidate for CEO, then there's something seriously wrong."

Anyway, Whitacre today scotched a potential succession issue by announcing today that GM board member Dan Akerson will succeed him as CEO effective Sept. 1, and as chairman at the end of 2010. It will be interesting to see the effect, if any, Akerson's appointment has on Liddell, if he considers himself to be passed-over.

Whitacre said again today that it was his plan all along was to step aside once the company was back on its feet. He said, "My public duty was to help return this company to greatness, and I didn't want to stay a day beyond this, really."


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Photo: GM