Another GM Top Management Change as CFO Liddell Resigns

“I came to General Motors to be part of something great,” said Liddell on leaving.

General Motors Vice Chairman and Chief Financial Officer Chris Liddell today announced that he will leave the company April 1, 2011 after just over one year on the job he started in January of 2010. Dan Ammann will succeed Liddell as General Motors chief financial officer. Ammann, 38, is currently GM vice president, finance and treasurer.

It was the latest top management change at GM that has seen four CEOs in the past two years, two CFOs and an all new board of directors in an overhaul dictated by the U.S. Treasury Department, which provided taxpayer funding to reorganize the bankrupt company in 2009 and still owns about 27% of it.

It appears that the outside financial gunslingers brought in by Treasury – notably Ed Whitaker retired from ATT and Chris Liddell from Microsoft – had short term personal goals as to how long they would run the historic and now recovering auto giant. This begs the question as to how long the current chairman and CEO Dan Akerson will stick around. Outsider Akerson came from Wall Street last year when Whitaker refused to commit to staying for a specific time as the GM IPO was underway. It does stop media speculation that Liddell, 52, was the obvious heir apparent for Akerson’s job.

No explanation was given for the sudden departure of Liddell in the GM statement. I’ll speculate that Liddell, an affable and extremely ambitious New Zealander, will turn up as CEO somewhere. He was passed over for the job when Whitacre abruptly resigned last year.

“Chris was a major contributor during a pivotal time in the company’s history,” said Akerson. “He guided the company’s IPO process and established a good financial foundation for the future.”

GM reported earnings of $4.7 billion in 2010 in spite of the management turmoil, its first profit since 2004. (On its way to bankruptcy GM posted losses of more than $89 billion in the interim.)

However, soaring oil prices and lingering questions about GM’s actual dependence on trucks have lately caused shares to trade below the successful stock offering at $33 of last November. So another, yet another management change is unwelcome at this time.  (See General Motors Posts 2010 Net of $4.7 B on $135.6 B of Income)

Worse, the latest vice chairman resignation comes as media speculation is building, claiming that Akerson’s GM reorganization in January was not going well. At the time it was presented internally to surprised GM employees as an attempt to make the automaker more like the technology firms that Akerson is familiar with from his Wall Street investment banking days,

This drama started when a 42-year GM veteran, Thomas G. Stephens, was named as GM’s new Global Chief Technology Officer (CTO), leaving his post as vice chairman, Global Product Operations, a role he assumed from Bob Lutz when he retired.

The all important product development position was then scaled back with more limited scope than Lutz or Stephens had – who were both without question real car guys with sweeping powers. Whatever truth is contained in the current speculation that GM management is not working smoothly is not helpful at this time. There will be more speculation to come, no doubt, in the days ahead. (See General Motors Appoints Mary Barra, a GM Human Resources Executive, to Head Global Product Development)

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