GM Picks Microsoft Exec as New CFO


With Chris Liddell, General Motors CEO Ed Whitacre adds an outsider and shores up a finance operation criticized by Treasury as weak

By David Welch

(Bloomberg) — General Motors , reaching outside the company and the auto industry for a new chief financial officer, hired Microsoft(MSFT)'s Chris Liddell as vice chairman and CFO.

Liddell, 51, takes his new post effective Jan. 1, GM said today in a statement. Liddell, whose plan to step down as Microsoft's CFO was announced Nov. 24, succeeds CFO Ray Young, who will become vice president of international operations on Feb. 1.

The move helps Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Ed Whitacre shore up a financial operation criticized by the Treasury's auto task force. Hiring a CFO new to Detroit-based GM also extends Whitacre's imprint on management since becoming CEO on Dec. 1 when the board ousted Fritz Henderson.

"It had to be an outsider," said Maryann N. Keller, a senior adviser at consultant Casesa Shapiro Group in New York. "GM's finance department was too inbred."

Liddell, a New Zealand native, joined Microsoft in 2005 and was the first outsider to be named finance chief in more than two decades. He oversaw $3 billion of expense reductions in the past fiscal year, including Microsoft's first companywide job cuts, and the company's first-ever bond offering.

Liddell was previously CFO at International Paper Co., the largest U.S. maker of cardboard shipping boxes, and was CEO at Carter Holt Harvey Ltd., then New Zealand's second-largest public company.

'Depth and Experience'

"Chris brings a depth and experience to this job that were unmatched in our search for a new financial leader," Whitacre said. "Chris will lead our financial and accounting operations on a global basis and will report directly to me."

Whitacre, the former AT&T (ATT) chairman and CEO named in June to lead a revamped board, has been reshaping the team put in place by Henderson when GM left bankruptcy a month later.

On Dec. 4, Whitacre picked new North American and European presidents and moved Vice Chairman Bob Lutz to be an adviser for design and product development. Whitacre gave some of Lutz's marketing duties to Susan Docherty, who was promoted to vice president of sales, service and marketing from U.S. sales chief.

Two of Docherty's three general managers for GM brands also were replaced this month. The new assignment for Young, 47, was announced Dec. 14.

To contact the reporter on this story: David Welch in Southfield, Michigan, at david_welch@businessweek.com


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