WASHINGTON -- Fred Webber cautions people against equating the "interim" in front of his title with "inactive."
The veteran lobbyist executive was picked this month by automakers to be interim president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. But Webber says his time in the job will be busy, no matter how long it lasts.
In addition to the daily responsibilities of running a $32 million-a-year organization, Webber says, "There's a job to be done. There are issues that are going to be before the Congress and the regulatory agencies. No way are we going to sit on our hands."
Webber, 66, expects to be interim president for as long as a year while the association continues its year-old search for a high-profile person to be the new face of the industry in Washington. But he did not rule out staying longer if asked.
"We'll see how it plays out," he says. His first day on the job was Tuesday, Jan. 20.
Sources outside the alliance say the search for a permanent CEO had turned to members of Congress, but the legislators contacted said they wanted to continue in office through 2004.
Alliance Vice President Gloria Bergquist said only that prominent figures in Washington often wait until an election is past before deciding on big career moves.
Webber retired in late 2002 after 10 years as head of the American Chemistry Council, which represents chemical manufacturers. He continues to serve on three corporate boards and three foundation boards. Previously he worked for organizations representing the forest products industry, electric utilities and the soft drink industry.
He led the U.S. League of Savings Institutions during the controversial and painful restructuring of savings and loans more than a decade ago.
With any industry, he says, "Reaching consensus can be challenging." He adds, "It takes a lot of persuasion, diplomacy, leadership."
He says he will begin visiting alliance members soon. The 5-year-old organization represents the Big 3 and six import-brand automakers.
People who know him say one of Webber's main strengths is that after more than 30 years in Washington, he knows everyone. And Webber has developed a reputation for working well with members of both political parties.
He does not hide the fact that he was a big supporter of Republican George Bush's election four years ago.
Webber spoke fondly of Josephine Cooper, the founding president of the alliance, who resigned Jan. 15 and soon will head the Washington office of Toyota Motor North America Inc.
Says Cooper, "My task during this interim period is to continue the good work that Jo Cooper did."