Operating on a short leash: GM CEO Fritz Henderson doesn't have much time to prove himself.
He was supposed to be the numbers guy, quietly sitting in the background, figuring out how to make things work. But the world turned upside-down for Frederick A. “Fritz” Henderson, when, on March 31st, the White House drove General Motors Chairman Rick Wagoner into an ignominious and unexpected retirement.
The company Henderson inherited as GM’s new CEO was facing a bleak future. Long struggling to halt steady declines in sales and market share, the automaker was buried under a mountain of debt and burning through billions in cash each month. A short-term infusion of federal loan money was clearly not enough to sustain GM, but from the moment he took the top office at the corporate offices, in Detroit’s Renaissance Center, it became obvious that the only likely salvation would come through a Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization – something Wagoner had simply been unable to accept.
Ironically, the 50-year-old Henderson had a career path that largely echoed that of his predecessor, down to the Harvard MBA and assignments managing GM’s operations in places like Europe and Brazil. But perhaps one of Henderson’s most important postings was in China, one of the few true success stories GM can point to in recent years.
On June 1st, to the surprise of no one, GM declared bankruptcy, effectively wrapping up the history of the 101-year-old company that was once as much a symbol of American might as the eagle and the star-spangled banner. With the Obama Administration’s help and guidance, Henderson hopes to steer the maker through the courts and emerge, in as little as 60 to 90 days, as a “new General Motors,” one the new CEO promised would be “a leaner, quicker, more customer, completely product-focused Company.”
Here, TheDetroitBureau.com’s Bureau Chief Paul A. Eisenstein speaks to Henderson to get an update on the bankruptcy process, a sense of how much the White House is trying to manage GM, whether Henderson is worried about a threatened boycott of “Government Motors” products – and whether he will survive the next round of management cuts now being planned for GM.