DETROIT (AdAge.com) -- Fritz Henderson, president-CEO of General Motors Co., has abruptly resigned, Chairman Edward Whitacre said today. Mr. Whitacre will assume the CEO title while a search for a new chief is under way.
Mr. Whitacre, a former chairman-CEO of AT&T who was until recently an outsider to the automotive industry, commutes to Detroit from Texas, but said in a short press conference held at GM headquarters that he will be in Detroit daily now. He did not accept any questions from reporters.
Mr. Henderson was to be the keynote speaker to open the press days of the Los Angeles auto show tomorrow. A spokesman said Bob Lutz, vice chairman of marketing, will make the speech instead.
The move comes in the wake of a GM board meeting today. A GM spokesman said the board determined that it would be best if Mr. Henderson resigned in order to initiate a change of direction for the company. The government's auto task force was notified after the board made the decision, the spokesman said. GM, which emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy this summer, is now a private company in which the U.S. Treasury Department holds a majority stake.
"Fritz has done a remarkable job in leading the company through an unprecedented period of challenge and change. While momentum has been building over the past several months, all involved agree that changes needed to be made," Mr. Whitacre said. "To this end, I have taken over the role of chairman and CEO while an international search for a new president and CEO begins immediately."
He added, "I want to assure all of our employees, dealers, suppliers, union partners and most of all, our customers, that GM's daily business operations will continue as normal. I remain more convinced than ever that our company is on the right path and that we will continue to be a leader in offering the worldwide buying public the highest quality, highest value cars and trucks. We now need to accelerate our progress toward that goal, which will also mean a return to profitability and repaying the American and Canadian taxpayers as soon as possible."
Mr. Henderson was promoted to the post earlier this year after Rick Wagoner, his mentor and friend, was pushed out by the task force. Mr. Henderson joined GM in 1984 as a senior financial analyst in the treasurer's office in New York. His career included stints as chief of regional operations in Latin America, Asia and Europe. He was promoted to president-chief operating officer in March 2008. He was not available for comment.
GM reported U.S. new-vehicle sales for November dropped 2% to 151,427 units vs. November 2008, though retail sales rose 1%. GM today in a sales conference call said its incentives dropped by an average of $1,416 per unit last month, besting the industry-average drop of $713. Mr. Whitacre has been especially public with his plans to reduce GM's incentives and improve market share.