DETROIT -- General Motors Co. Chairman Ed Whitacre said his appointment to lead the automaker indefinitely as CEO will help provide stability to a team that's now “set at the top.”
Whitacre overhauled GM's top executive structure when he took over as interim CEO in December. Among the changes: naming Mark Reuss president of GM North America and Susan Docherty chief of U.S. sales. Today, the company removed “interim” from Whitacre's title.
Whitacre, 68, said he feels no need to make more immediate changes, although most of his lieutenants are GM lifers.
“Everybody here is new to me,” said Whitacre, who joined GM as the automaker exited a U.S.-steered bankruptcy in July. “I think we're set at the top. I think we like what we see.”
Some middle management may need rearranging, he said, but the overall goal is to reduce turmoil.
“This place needs some stability,” Whitacre said in announcing his expanded role during a press conference this morning. “I guess that's me.”
The appointment cements the Detroit 3 as a group run by outsiders. Alan Mulally, Ford Motor Co.'s CEO since 2006, is a former Boeing Co. executive. Sergio Marchionne, Chrysler Group's CEO, is an accountant and lawyer who took command of Fiat S.p.A. in 2004.
Whitacre deferred to the GM board on his status, saying the permanent CEO role was offered to him at a special board meeting last week.
But he clearly sees himself as GM's public face, not only announcing the decision himself but also using today's brief press conference to disclose other business items. Among them: strengthening a pledge to pay back, by June, roughly $8 billion in U.S. and Canadian government loans and reiterating plans to go public as soon as late this year.
Whitacre also said he has not decided how long he'll remain chairman and CEO.
“I'm going to do it for a while,” he said in his address. During questioning, he said he plans to keep both titles as long as he is at GM rather than handing one to a successor.
Whitacre said he will not move to Detroit. He'll keep his home in Texas, where his family is, and continue to commute. He said he will spend more time in Detroit.
GM had been conducting an international search for a permanent leader. Analysts have speculated that Chris Liddell, the former Microsoft CFO appointed Dec. 21 as GM's new finance chief, eventually will succeed Whitacre as chief executive.
“That will be up to the board to decide somewhere down the road," Whitacre said today of Liddell's possible future as CEO.
Whitacre last was a CEO at AT&T Corp. and its predecessor companies from 1990 to 2007. He retired after seeing the largest U.S. telecommunications service provider through seven large acquisitions over a decade.
He becomes the third CEO at the largest U.S. automaker in 10 months.
He succeeded Fritz Henderson, 51, a career GM executive who had risen through company ranks and steered the automaker through its 40-day bankruptcy.
Henderson took over from Rick Wagoner, 56, who was CEO from 2000 until March, when the Obama administration's autos task force ousted him.
Henderson and Wagoner before him each tried to remake GM into a leaner, faster-moving company. As the automaker's survival became dependent on U.S. aid, both were seen as acting too slowly and lacking the credibility of an outsider.
Reuters contributed to this report