Automotive News [sub] reports that the one-time advisor to Rick Wagoner and GM’s director in charge of the UAW’s VEBA account’s 17.5 percent stake in the automaker has been promoted to Vice Chairman in charge of corporate strategy and business development. He will be replacing John Smith, a 59 year-old GM “lifer” (he joined the company in 1968) who led negotiations for GM’s Saab-Spyker and Opel-Magna deals. Smith will stay on until the end of this year as an advisor to CFO Chris Liddell. That Smith would leave GM after the failed Opel sale and the less-than-entirely-satisfying Saab-Spyker deal isn’t surprising, and as a well-compensated advisor to CEO Ed Whitacre and a rising star at GM, Girsky is an equally unsurprising replacement (despite his failure to rescue Saturn). And though Girsky brings experience gained as a labor advisor and a Morgan Stanley analyst, he’s got his work cut out for him. GM’s brand sales have been largely unsuccessful so far, Opel is in an unfunded turnaround limbo, and a recent India-market alliance with SAIC was less than perfect for GM’s long-term prospects. Girsky’s got a lot going for him compared to the typical GM insider, but with mounting long-term, structural issues facing The General, there aren’t any easy options facing him in his new capacity.
If there’s a word to describe the feeling inside GM right now, it would be “nervous.” Though nobody was surprised that Fritz Henderson would leave at some point, it’s clear that his ouster was strangely timed and indicative of Ed Whitacre’s desire for rapid results. In an instant, Whitacre public image went from Iacocca-wannabe-pitchman to hard-charging Texas executive, seemingly defined by (get this) his penchant for killing rattlesnakes by pinning them with a stick and crushing their heads with a rock. So vivid is this metaphor, that according to Businesweek‘s David Welch, a number of GM executives actually offered their resignations to Whitacre immediately following the Henderson’s canning. Though Whitacre declined to let the bloodletting continue, a number of commentators now appear to believe that Whitacre wants to run GM himself. Though pay caps will be the easy excuse for not finding a new CEO, the board of director’s activism in clashing with Henderson over the Opel sale could discourage other executives from even considering the job. Moreover, Whitacre’s history of taking over companies and molding them in his image is well-established from his time at SBC/AT&T. So, will Ed Whitacre drop the pretense and the word “interim” from his title, or is he really just clearing the way for someone else?
Well, not so wild ass, obviously. Other than getting sued by disenfranchised Saab
dealers—which isn’t so much of an issue now that Uncle Sam is paying for everything—why wouldn’t GM shutter Saab? When it comes to buying car brands, no one is. Or will be. For a very, very long time. If ever. And GM needs to show its Congressional overlords that it’s doing something about something™. So we’re passing along a tipster’s assertion that yesterday’s resignation of Percy Barnevik from GM’s Board of Directors signals that the axe is about to fall on the Born From Jets brand. The divine Mr. B. was born just (pronounced youst) outside Trollhättan. If he ever wants to show his face in Sweden again, he has to distance himself from the author of Saab’s neglect, abuse and final destruction. You know, GM and its Board of Directors . . . which he joined six years after GM scarfed the Swedish brand, during which time it produced the America-only 9-7x (a TTAC Ten Worst winner). For that alone, I’d be worried.