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A woman walks past a vehicle at the GM assembly plant in Oshawa, Ont. (NATHAN DENETTE)
A woman walks past a vehicle at the GM assembly plant in Oshawa, Ont. (NATHAN DENETTE)

GM shakes up senior management Add to ...

General Motors Co. chairman and chief executive officer Ed Whitacre announced a broad shakeup of the auto maker's senior leadership Friday, tightening his grip on the company three days after replacing its CEO.

The changes included shifting vice-chairman Bob Lutz to a senior advisory role and naming Nick Reilly, the head of GM Europe to oversee the restructuring of its Opel unit.

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Mr. Reilly, 59, who ran GM's operations in Asia, had recently been dispatched to Europe to smooth over the board's decision to retain Opel rather than sell a majority stake, a move favoured by European governments and union leaders.

The announcement by Mr. Whitacre, made to employees first in a worldwide internal telecast, followed the GM board's replacement of CEO Fritz Henderson, a long-time executive who guided the auto maker through a government-funded bankruptcy.

The changes gave some of GM's younger executives more control over the auto maker. None of the new appointments came from outside the company.

"I want to give people more responsibility and authority deeper in the organization and then hold them accountable," Mr. Whitacre, who was named interim CEO on Tuesday, said in a statement.

Analysts said the decision to make wide-ranging changes at the executive level suggested that Mr. Whitacre expected to remain CEO for some time, possible a year or longer.

"You wouldn't shake up the management if you expect a new person to build his own team," said Logan Robinson, a long-time auto industry executive and professor at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law.

"If you're going to stay long-term, you're going to choose the team you want," Robinson said. "It's what we see in the latest round of changes."

IHS Global Insight analyst John Wolkonowicz said he expected Mr. Whitacre to remain CEO until after an initial public stock offering, in part, to prevent U.S. government pay restrictions from hampering the search.

"What's he trying to say is we've got to move fast and we've got to move efficiently and we have to forget the way GM used to do it," Mr. Wolkonowicz said.

Mr. Lutz, 77, who put off retirement to head marketing for the new GM after its emergence from bankruptcy in July, has been reassigned as vice chairman and adviser on design and global product development.

Tom Stephens, 61, remains vice-chairman of global product operations and takes on the global purchasing role, GM said. GM's former head of global purchasing, Bo Andersson, left the auto maker in June.

GM named Mark Reuss, 46, president of GM North America and appointed Tim Lee, 58, to take over Reilly's former role and lead its operations in its Asia-Pacific, Latin America, Africa and Middle East regions.

Mr. Whitacre and other executives addressed workers at the Warren Technical Center near Detroit, and his comments were broadcast to GM employees around the world. He has scheduled his first business update as acting CEO for Tuesday.

The former head of AT&T, Mr. Whitacre became GM chairman when it emerged from bankruptcy. He was named interim CEO of the auto maker on Tuesday after Mr. Henderson resigned in a split with the board.

Mr. Henderson was asked to step down after eight months, with the board looking for a quicker restructuring, the second abrupt departure of a GM CEO in 2009. His predecessor, Rick Wagoner, was forced out in March by the Obama administration.

GM has struggled to complete restructuring plans in the nearly five months since it emerged from a swift bankruptcy nearly 61-per-cent owned by the U.S. Treasury.

Negotiations to sell its Saab and Saturn brands fell through in the latter stages. GM's board opted to retain Opel and restructure it, reversing a management decision earlier in 2009 to sell a majority stake in that European unit.

 

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