Whitacre Keeps CEO Role at GM; Plans for IPO, Independence

Last Updated Jan 25, 2010 1:31 PM EST

There are several urgent factors that led General Motors Chairman and CEO Ed Whitacre to declare himself the permanent CEO today.

Those start with a board search for a new CEO since December, which must not have gone too well. Whitacre is also chairman of the GM board, so in a way he was in charge of finding his own successor. Meanwhile, he was looking more comfortable in the role of CEO all the time. That must have weighed heavily with any potential candidates.

Second, GM was also in dire need of stable leadership at the top, after the government forced Rick Wagoner to walk the plank in March 2009, followed by the ouster of Fritz Henderson in December 2009.

Third, I'm guessing that GM is getting really, really tired of having Congress breathing down its neck. A visit from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi plus a big delegation from Congress at the Detroit auto show earlier this month drove home the fact that the U.S. government is GM's majority owner.

Here's something that occurred to me at the Detroit auto show last month: Whitacre was a few minutes late for a Buick-GMC press conference at the Detroit auto show, and GM conspicuously waited for him to arrive before starting. Auto show organizers were quietly strangling themselves in the background, because their carefully planned schedule was going wrong.

Anyway, there aren't too many people in the world who could make the chairman of GM late for a GM press conference at the Detroit auto show. Under the circumstances, Nancy Pelosi is one of them. I hasten to add, she might have had nothing to do with it. Still, that was my thought process. If I were GM, I wouldn't want to be in that position, even hypothetically.

Besides dropping the "acting" part of his "acting CEO" title, Whitacre confirmed again that GM will pay off its U.S. and Canadian government loans by June, a preliminary step towards a GM Initial Public Offering, and the government divesting its GM shares.

Photo: GM