GM's new chair is rebuilder

Two years after riding off into the sunset, former AT&T Inc Chairman and Chief Executive Ed Whitacre finds himself back in the saddle again.

As the new chairman of General Motors Corp, the 67-year-old, straight-talking Texan faces the unenviable task of overseeing the rebuilding of what is perhaps the country's biggest and best-known corporate basket-case.

And he'll have to do it with the U.S. government, which now owns a majority of the bankrupt carmaker, scrutinizing his every move.

Putting something back together? With the government second-guessing his every move? Whitacre is back in his element.

He cobbled together the company now known as AT&T by taking a collection of disparate regional telephone companies created by the breakup of "Ma Bell" in the 1980s -- and reassembling them through a series of seven high-profile, and sometimes risky, acquisitions.

In the process, Whitacre built the company into the biggest U.S. telecommunications service provider.

"Who said retired CEOs are forgotten about?" said Jeff Kagan, a telecom analyst who has watched Whitacre for the past two decades.

"Ed does not know the automobile business, but he has (the) unique ability to understand a business as it transforms itself. He was a big success in the changing telecom space. Perhaps, he can be just as successful in the transforming automobile space."

At&t Experience

Whitacre headed AT&T from 1990 to 2007. In 1993, he moved the headquarters of what was then known as Southwestern Bell Corp from St. Louis to San Antonio, Texas. He continues to live there today and serves as an adjunct business professor at Texas Lutheran College in nearby Seguin.

"I am just tickled that they've selected him," said Richard Perez, who worked closely with Whitacre as a member of the San Antonio City Council and then as president of the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, where Whitacre served on the board of directors.

"He has a vision for bringing things together and making them work, and growing them, and that's what GM needs right now. It was floating too long on the sea of not knowing what the hell they were doing ... I think he is going to refocus the mission of the organization and turn it back into its glory days."

Whitacre will become chairman of the restructured automaker later this summer.

The No. 1 U.S. automaker, which filed for bankruptcy on June 1, plans to undertake a quick sale process that would allow a much smaller company to emerge from court protection in as little as 60 to 90 days.

The automaker's current interim chairman, Kent Kresa, will continue to serve in that position until then.

Kresa, former chief executive of Northrop Grumman Corp, became GM chairman in March when the Obama administration ousted Rick Wagoner, who had held both the chairman and chief executive officer positions.

Whitacre and Kresa, along with current board members Philip Laskawy, Kathryn Marinello, Erroll Davis Jr, E. Neville Isdell and current GM CEO Fritz Henderson, will serve as the "nucleus" of the restructured company's board, GM said in a statement.

The six other members of the current board will most likely retire, according to the automaker.

GM has retained executive search firm Spencer Stuart to find directors to serve on the board of the new company.

[Source: By James B. Kelleher, Reuters, Chicago, 09Jun09]

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