Michael Larson, the AutoNation Inc. director who was leading the effort to find a replacement for CEO Mike Jackson, abruptly stepped down Monday.
Larson, AutoNation's lead independent director, told the company Friday that he would resign effective Monday, Dec. 17, the date of the public dealership group's last board meeting of the year, according to a late Monday filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
Larson is chief investment officer for Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft. Gates, through various investment entities, became AutoNation's largest shareholder in early 2016. He holds a 23 percent stake.
AutoNation, the largest new-vehicle retailer in the country, said in a statement that at the Monday board meeting, the directors elected Rick Burdick to replace Larson as lead independent director, effective that day. Burdick has been on AutoNation's board since 1991 and is a partner in Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, a global law firm.
"We thank [Larson] for his many years of service on the Board and his contributions to the Company and our shareholders and wish him the best," Jackson, who is also chairman of the board, said in the statement.
In the AutoNation statement, Larson said: "After nearly nine years of serving on AutoNation's Board, I believe now is the right time for me to transition off and focus on managing other positions within our fund's portfolios. As a long-time AutoNation investor and Board member, I am proud of the leadership team's many accomplishments and wish them only the best for a bright and strong future."
In September, AutoNation announced its search for a new CEO and a plan for Jackson to move to an executive chairman role in 2019 after his successor was announced.
In April, shareholders voted against a proposal that would have required the chairman to be an independent board member, the South Florida SunSentinel reported at the time. The change was rejected by 72 percent of shareholders, the local newspaper reported. AutoNation recommended that shareholders vote against the proposal because the company already had Larson as a lead independent director.
AutoNation, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., ranks No. 1 on Automotive News' list of the top 150 dealership groups based in the U.S., with retail sales of 329,116 new vehicles in 2017.