By on November 14, 2009

The interview that shut the door on German government help. Whitacre and Merkur correspondent Friedemann Diederichs. Picture courtesy merkur-online.de

An uncouth interview, given by GM Chairman Ed Whitacre to the German newspaper Muenchner Merkur at the sidelines of an event at the Texas Lutheran University, has shut the doors on any donations Berlin may make to Opel’s cause. Aus. Vorbei.

“I think we won’t be needing money from your government for Opel,” Whitacre said to the Merkur reporter who had come all the way to Seguin, Texas. “If Mrs. Merkel declines help, we will pay for it ourselves. Maybe this will make your chancellor happy.”

When asked whether Barack Obama (Ed & Barack are close) had influenced the decision to stop the Opel sale, Whitacre laughed and gave a “no comment.”

German government officials could not believe the interview. The same day the interview had appeared, GM’s Smith & Reilly had come begging to Berlin. Incredulous, the German government asked in Washington and at GM whether Whitacre’s statements were true. The statements were confirmed.

After the interview had been corroborated both in DC and Detroit, Jens Weidmann, advisor of Angela Merkel, sat down and wrote a terse letter to GM, reports Die Welt today. With Whitacre’s statement, any basis for GM receiving any money from Germany would be null and void. After all, “GM has shown an alternative to rescue Opel.” Don’t you ever come back begging again. We are through with you. (And we have someone to blame, we’ve tried.)

(Yesterday, a spokesperson of GME, who apparently had not received the memo, added to the confusion by saying that GM would still count on government help. Never mind. News travels slowly at GM. When asked to comment on Merkel’s statement before the German parliament, that she feels duped by GM’s management, Whitacre said: “This surprises me, it’s the first time I’ve heard about this.”)

Says Die Welt: “Opel has many problems. Their biggest problem fits into a conference room and sits in Detroit. It’s the leadership of GM. Chairman Whitacre publicly doesn’t give a damn about German government aid. GM CEO Fritz Henderson emphatically demands it.”

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21 Comments on “Berlin To Whitacre: You Are Beyond Salvage...”


  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    All I can say is:  Wow! 

    As a casual observer, it seems to me, after the Magna-Sparbank deal was torpedoed by Brussels, GM realized that they had the opportunity to keep Opel (and hoped to avoid having to pay back the entire loan amount to the FRG.)  Ok, this much makes sense, but unless every door had been closed in Berlin (and other countries where Opel has assets/people on the ground), why needlessly irritate Berlin, stir-up bad press, and telegraph-360° the “we can go it alone” message?

    Unless big Ed’s statements are calibrated to move the whole issue toward forcing DC’s hand to allow GM to buy Opel out of hock and restructure it (out of the existing GM escrow fund, or to infuse it to allow this to happen), then big Ed has made ill-informed, ignorant and dangerous statements.

  • avatar
    John

    What’s with Ed Whitacre referring to the Chancellor of Germany as Mrs. Merkel? Seems a little odd not to use a proper title for a head of government. Especially when your corporation is still not out of the woods and may need more help, even if you don’t want to publicly admit it.

  • avatar

    John: I guess the Mrs. was the least offensive part to Frau Merkel. She drives a Golf at home. Arrogance from someone who’s CEO is pleading poverty at the same time doesn’t go down well.

    • 0 avatar
      rocketrodeo

      speaking of not getting titles, right, Mr. Schmitt, could you look into using the proper form of address for a U.S. president?  President Obama, Barack Obama, or even simply Obama is much more correct than “Barak” –which, by the way, is the suname of a former Israeli prime minister, not the President’s given name.

    • 0 avatar
      Daanii2

      If you complain about typos, at least spell “surname” right.

  • avatar
    russification

    alpha dog has problem eating from strangers hand..

  • avatar
    Ingvar

    Old alpha dogs never learn when to sit and STFU.

  • avatar
    wmba

    Well, I’ve been posting on this subject for the last couple of days, and my first prediction has come to pass.

    Ed Whitacre has no political smarts whatsoever. He seems to equate the post of Chancellor of Germany with that of the mayor of some small town. And makes disparaging comments while he’s at it.

    I can hardly believe how ill-informed he is, it passes my imagination. But there you are. An utterly incompetent twit, and unfortunately, that means my taxpayer dollars and yours are now going to have to be spent to satisfy the glorious self-image of a man who is fundamentally unsuited to leading a public company. I mean, we are now going to have to pay to resuscitate Opel.

    Funnily enough, Fritz, with his past experience working at GM all over the world, has a much better understanding of politics, and was still trying to soothe the German government, while the swashbuckling Whitacre was busy shoving his foot so far down his mouth, only nonsense emerged. So Fritz is tarred with the same brush.

    Unbelievable.

    • 0 avatar
      John Horner

      ” … a man who is fundamentally unsuited to leading a public company.”
      Yeah, I guess that is why he was so successful reassembling AT&T and leading it back from the edge and into a solid position in telecommunications. Obviously he knows nothing about leading a public company.

      • 0 avatar
        asapuntz

        I don’t think SBC was “on the edge”, though Whitacre did lead them through 20 years of acquisitions and mergers which eventually reunited half the “baby bells” and the wireless operations under the “new AT&T” brand. A lot of those components were service/utilities with limited-competition business models – not really the same as auto manufacturing?

    • 0 avatar
      wmba

      John:

      What I mean is a public company owned by the government — that’s public money to me. What we call a Crown Corporation in our country. You and I are paying for this man’s take on things.

      Stock issuing public companies are a different thing, obviously.

      And Whitacre’s glorious past life as head of AT&T does not make him particularly suitable for being Chairman of the Board of New GM, IMO. A different skill set would be more useful.

      As many Germans would agree. He’s a loose cannon when it comes to politics, and he offended a Head of State. Read some translated German online papers to get a feeling for it. This isn’t some small thing to them at all. Hence Bertel’s headline.

  • avatar
    dougjp

    Once again, GM does it to itself. How typical. What a bunch of morons. Can Chapter 7 be next?

  • avatar
    mpresley

    I’ve had it.  GM (aka American Taxpayers) are played as the fools we are by GM brass and their politician masters.  But wait, the real CEO is in China  begging for cash, and probably seeing if his half-brother (not the one living in the cardboard box somewhere in Nigeria) can score a Buick dealership.  Can it get any worse?  Wait till next week…it can always get worse.

  • avatar
    Geo. Levecque

    Germany is leading the EU out of this depression, and really the Whole European Community, the only one place that is still down is the United Kingdom, again I also think that Mr Whitacre is out to lunch on many aspects of the World including not knowing how to address the German Leader, its too bad that this goff is in the position he is in, less of this type would make Companies better, such a shame for not only GM but the USA as a whole!

  • avatar
    jacad

    We should all bow down to the abject audacity and arrogance of GM. It is nothing short of astounding!

    In the last six months they have blatantly lied to Congress, been given billions of dollars to overcome their inept management to the chagrin of the majority of Americans, and pissed off most State legislators and many local officials by firing thousands of dealers who are their only customer and putting hundreds of thousands out of work. They have run countless ads featuring some automotive amateur mouthing the slogan “May the best car win” which if taken literally means they never sell another one.  Now, if alienating everyone on this side of the Atlantic was not enough, they move on to insulting an entire Country in Europe and their elected leaders. Someone they owe money to and can’t pay without a handout from someone else!

    After they get through insulting everyone in the World, who do they think they are going to sell vehicles to?

  • avatar
    PeteMoran

    Who was the last “successful” Texan who was a global “ambassador”?

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    Whitacre is the former long-time head of SBC, based in Texas. When SBC bought out Pacific Bell in California, the customer service went in the tank and charges went up. SBC then bought out what was left of AT&T and its long distance and just took the name, the main offices remaining in Texas.
     
    Whitacre tried to stiff a consumer group’s lawsuit against SBC by saying they should deal with AT&T, while AT&T claimed it was a holding company in Delaware and had no property, equipment or employees in California. They went so far as to refuse delivery of mail addressed to AT&T sent to California offices. The judge was not amused.
     
    Last year, while Whitacre was still in charge, AT&T issued new terms of service for customers in California that denied any chance to appeal company charges and decisions, and included a notice that if customers disagreed with the new terms, they should call the local AT&T office to arrange to have their service shut off, otherwise they would automatically agree with the new terms. Consumer groups raised hell and AT&T reluctantly “delayed” the new terms of service.
     
    That’s the way Whitacre’s company has operated for years under his “leadership”. If someone wrote a book about Whitacre’s career and tone-deaf, imperial management, it would make “Mommy Dearest” look like a love letter. With this guy in charge, GM is doomed.

  • avatar
    panzerfaust

    GM: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

  • avatar
    lahru

    To say that Whitacre is qualified to be Chairman of the board of General Motors due to his past performance in the telecommunication industry does hold water IMO. He took a company that had millions of customers paying for phone service every month and used those proceeds to leverage the company’s ability to go to Wall St. and get cash to purchase more telephone companies at a time when credit was easy to get and lending requirements were lax. He is now in charge of a multination company in debt two yards above it’s eyeballs and lending standards and have changed severly. In his previuous job he was courted by Wall St. for his companies desire to get larger and they were more than happy to loan, loan, loan them the money. Oh, how times have changed and now he is refusing/denying the present day circumstances because his mind is clouded with the ego high of being chairman of General Motors and believes the world must bow to him and Ms, Mrs,Missy,Misses, whatever? I’m the chairman of General Motors the largest car company in the WORLD and I’ll talk to her however I want, dammit! I’m the chairman of General Motors. Notice he went back to Texas Lutheran Universsity to give his speech so he could puff out his chest and show the boys and girls back home how succesful he is. A fish dies from the head and when you have someone as arrogant as Whitacre trying to run the company pineing to emulate Jack Smith’s success years ago the only thing that will stop him is his own arrogance and lack of easy money.
    How’s that Volt comin’?

    • 0 avatar
      rnc

      He led the company (SBC the smallest of the baby-Bells) as the telecom world transformed from a collection of mini-monopolies to the wide open world of wireless and broadband (and came out of it with the largest most profitable company). 

      Regardless of GM, what he accomplished at SBC was amazing, they should have been the one swallowed and they did the eating.

  • avatar
    GS650G

    How is it possible for GM to have CEOs like this? Where did he get off making such remarks to the press like that? Could it be they want Opel to crash so they can break the unions?
    The German tax payers just saved a few billion. We didn’t. Guess who pays for Ed’s remarks and plans?

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