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GM finance chief Chris Liddell resigns

The executive's sudden departure comes after he had guided General Motors through its public stock offering and much of its return to sustained profit. He says he has no specific plans.

March 11, 2011|By Jerry Hirsch, Los Angeles Times

The top financial executive who helped guide General Motors Co. back to profitability and then its return to being a publicly traded company stepped down suddenly Thursday.

GM Chief Financial Officer Chris Liddell, who worked at the automaker only since January of 2010, said he had achieved his goals for the company and no longer wanted to be a top finance executive.

"I won't be a CFO again," Liddell, 52, said.

GM's board passed over Liddell in its search for a new chief executive last year when Edward E. Whitacre Jr. quit, settling on Dan Akerson instead.

"I don't have any specific plans," Liddell said. "I have a number of interesting ideas in the back of mind and none of them have CFO on them."

The resignation is likely to make investors nervous because it's the latest in a slew of senior executive changes at the automaker, said Brian Johnson, an analyst at Barclays Capital.

"Unexpected abrupt CFO departures are often interpreted as negative," Johnson said. "On top of four CEOs over the past two years, GM is now on to its fourth CFO in the same time period."

He said investors would be looking for guidance on "whether the departure changes GM's current conservative financial strategy."

In regular trading, GM shares fell 83 cents, or 2.6%, to $31.42. It is now trading below the $33 price the shares sold for when the company went public in November.

Liddell had previously set as one of his goals the full funding of GM's pension plan. He also set a strategy of using GM's finance division to do more leasing and subprime lending.

Last month, GM posted its first annual profit in six years. GM earned $4.7 billion, compared with a loss of $21 billion a year earlier. It was a dramatic turnaround from the 2005-09 period, during which the automaker lost $100 billion. Annual sales increased almost 30% to $135.6 billion from $104.6 billion in 2009.

Liddell will be succeeded by Dan Ammann, GM's vice president for finance and its treasurer. Before joining GM a year ago, Ammann, 38, was a managing director and investment banker at Morgan Stanley.

Akerson said that Ammann and Liddell have worked closely together, share the same financial strategy and outlook and that the transition should be seamless.

He praised Liddell for "setting a solid financial foundation for GM." Prior to joining GM, Liddell was CFO of Microsoft Corp.

The sudden resignation continues a churn of senior employees at GM, which underwent a bankruptcy restructuring and government bailout in 2009. The federal government still owns a 27% stake in GM when all of the outstanding options for shares held by various parties are included.

Whitacre resigned in August and was succeeded by Akerson, a GM board member and a top executive at Carlyle Group.

Whitacre initially took GM's helm in December 2009 as interim chief executive after the board pushed out longtime insider Fritz Henderson, who himself had been on the job for only eight months. Henderson had been named to GM's top job in March 2009 after his predecessor, Rick Wagoner, was ousted by President Obama's auto task force.

Two months ago, the Detroit automaker said Mary Barra would become senior vice president of global product development and be responsible for the design, engineering and vehicle quality of the company's 11 brands around the world.

Barra stepped into a position that had been held by longtime GM executive and Vice Chairman Thomas Stephens, who was named global chief technology officer by Akerson.

Stephens had served as product development chief for only a short time. He took over the post two years ago when industry guru Robert Lutz retired after a long career at GM and other automakers.

jerry.hirsch@latimes.com

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