GM’s CFO bows out after 14 months

By Dow Jones Newswires
Posted March 10 at 10:04 a.m.

After just 14 months at General Motors Co., Chief Financial Officer Chris Liddell is leaving the automaker, possibly to pursue a job as a CEO at another company.

On Thursday, GM said Liddell would be replaced by Treasurer Dan Ammann, a former Morgan Stanley managing director, starting April 1.

In a conference call, Liddell said he has accomplished “most of what I hoped to achieve as CFO, and it’s time to move on.” He added he does not have a new job lined up and is not interested in another finance post.

“I won’t be a CFO again,” Liddell said. “I’ve been CFO at a few companies now, and I feel like I’ve achieved all I can achieve in that role.”

Liddell was seen as a possible CEO candidate at GM when he joined the automaker from Microsoft Corp. in January 2010. Last August, when GM needed to replace Edward E. Whitacre Jr. as CEO, the company’s board chose a director, Daniel Akerson.

Akerson, in the same conference call, said Liddell “brought tremendous clarity” to the company as it was going through an initial public stock offering. “We thank Chris and wish him well,” Akerson said.

Liddell, 52, is a New Zealander who is credited with straightening out GM’s once-troubled finance department, helping position GM for its IPO last November and building a foundation for sustainable profits.

In the IPO, GM shares were sold for $33 each, considerably higher than  expected. In February, GM reported it earned $4.7 billion in 2010, its strongest performance in more than a decade.

At the same time, Akerson has greenlighted a drive by other top executives, including Ammann, to rebuild an in-house auto-finance business, a move Liddell has voiced some doubts about.

“I am philosophically against having a $100 billion finance company attached to a $50 billion to $60 billion car company,” he said in January. “In a (market)¬† downturn, we might be exposed. It’s critical we have credit flowing through those times.”

Liddell also pushed GM to pay off its debt, a dramatic shift for a company that traditionally used borrowing to finance development of new vehicles.

In promoting GM’s IPO last fall, Liddell promised investors that GM would pay off about $25 billion in debt and pension obligations. GM, he said, would hold only a token amount of debt — mainly to maintain a credit rating — for the long term.

“We want to be the masters of our own destiny” and not rely on borrowing from others, Liddell said in an interview last year.

Shortly after landing at GM last year, Liddell said he took the job at the automaker over tech sector prospects because he felt it would present a greater challenge and suggested he saw a long future for himself at GM.

“This his is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do something that’s important and incredibly interesting,” he said in March 2010. “If I can be part of the team that turns around GM that’s something I can be proud of 20 years from now.”

His replacement, Ammann, 38, is also relatively new to GM. He took over as treasurer in March 2010 and also played a key role in the IPO. PBefore that, he was managing director and head of industrial investment banking for Morgan Stanley.

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