GM CEO Resigns

General Motors' CEO Fritz Henderson resigned Tuesday after eight months at the helm of the largest U.S. automaker. The company's chairman, Ed Whitcare, will serve as interim CEO.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

There's news today that Fritz Henderson is out as the CEO of General Motors. The company's chairman of the board, Ed Whitacre, is taking over the job temporarily. GM is launching an international search for a new CEO.

NPR's Frank Langfitt covers the auto industry. And Frank, the Obama administration was quick to say: We did not force out Fritz Henderson. What happened today?

FRANK LANGFITT: Well, we don't officially we don't really know yet. Ed Whitacre came out. He was very brief. He gave a stilted announcement about this, refused to take any questions, but the feeling certainly in the Renaissance Center in Detroit and certainly around Michigan is that Henderson was forced out.

You know, if you remember, Henderson had not been in the job all that long. He took over after Rick Wagoner was essentially fired by President Obama. And the only hint Ed Whitacre gave was he talked about the company needing to move faster.

BLOCK: And what are people who follow the car business and people inside GM saying about what's to come?

LANGFITT: Well, as you can imagine, there are lots of theories out there. One is a frustration with middle management at GM. If you talk to people when they go into GM these days, they see some of the same people in the same jobs who ran the company into bankruptcy. And some people I talked to today said they thought this was a shot against across the bow of the old management of the company.

Another thing, Ed Whitacre, a very successful guy, ran AT&T, a strong personality. People said that he was kind of going behind Fritz Henderson and talking to senior managers and forcing them to kind of justify their jobs.

Another thing, ultimately, Fritz Henderson had been at GM for a very long time, and he was seen, to some degree, as someone who was a part of the old administration. And if the board was frustrated with the way things are going, the ultimate way to change that would be to remove him.

BLOCK: Just as a reminder, Frank, the Obama administration is saying we weren't behind this, but how much does the government own of GM?

LANGFITT: It's 60 percent.

BLOCK: Sixty percent.

LANGFITT: So we own a great deal of the company.

BLOCK: Would there have been anything in particular that happened for GM that might have precipitated this?

LANGFITT: Well, there's not one thing. Sales for November, we just got those results today, were down about two percent, but that's not too bad. One thing that Henderson's been trying to do is streamline the company down to four brands. People saw General Motors as too bloated and not competitive, but he struggled, or the company has struggled, to actually sell some of their worst-performing brands.

Saturn's a great deal a great example. GM was trying to sell Saturn to Roger Penske, and that fell apart, so Saturn, they had to shut down. And then - I guess it was a couple of weeks ago - a Swedish company was going to buy Saab. They backed out of the deal. They complained that General Motors was dragging its feet. And I was just on the phone with someone I know at GM, inside, who was saying, you know, those complaints about foot-dragging, they were pretty accurate. So it may be sort of a combination of all of these factors that led to what seemed to many people today to be a rather sudden announcement.

BLOCK: Okay, Frank. Thanks so much.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it.

BLOCK: That's NPR's Frank Langfitt, talking about the resignation today of the CEO of General Motors, Fritz Henderson.

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