Rick Wagoner is stepping down from General Motors ( GM) at the behest of the White House, after having served at the company for three decades. The chairman and CEO of the troubled U.S. automaker is stepping down immediately, the company confirmed early Monday. Shares of GM were down 95 cents to $2.67 in recent trading Monday. GM said in a statement that Fritz Henderson, GM's president and chief operating officer, will serve as CEO. Henderson, 50, was named to his current position in 2008. He was previously vice chairman and chief financial officer. President Obama will speak at 11 a.m. EDT on Monday about the plans for the automakers. He is expected to reiterate that neither GM nor Chrysler submitted acceptable plans to receive additional federal bailout money. Kent Kresa, former chairman of Northrop Grumman, has been named interim non-executive chairman of the board. Kresa became a GM director in 2003. New directors will make up the majority of GM's board, the automaker said. "The board has recognized for some time that the company's restructuring will likely cause a significant change in the stockholders of the company and create the need for new directors with additional skills and experience," Kresa said in a written statement. The news comes as the administration is preparing to unveil Monday its plan for providing additional aid to the auto industry. The White House is expected to ask GM and Chrysler to undergo significant restructuring in exchange for additional government loans.
Speaking in an interview on CBS' "Face the Nation" broadcast Sunday, President Obama said automakers need to do more to qualify for additional help. "They're not there yet," he said. Obama also said, "We think we can have a successful U.S. auto industry. But it's got to be one that's realistically designed to weather this storm and to emerge at the other end much more lean, mean, and competitive than it currently is." Two people familiar with the plan said Sunday that the Obama administration would give GM enough government aid to restructure over the next 60 days, while Chrysler will get up to $6 billion and 30 days to complete an alliance with Italian automaker Fiat. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to make details public. Shawn Morgan, a Chrysler spokeswoman, declined to comment ahead of Obama's announcement. In Warren, Mich., Chrysler employees reacted with wariness to the Chrysler-Fiat pairing and anger toward the administration's moves. "Right now it looks like our only hope," 37-year-old lineman Douglas Kozak said of the possible deal with the Italian automaker after arriving at the Warren Truck Assembly plant. "You've got to expect the worst and hope for the best." Machine repairman Don Thompson, a nearly four-decade Chrysler veteran, said the automakers are being punished because of populist anger over the financial bailout. "They're using us for the mistakes they've made in Washington," Thompson said. GM issued a statement early Monday saying it is "awaiting further announcements by the President and the Task Force on Automotive Reconstruction, and we will have additional comments at that time."
A person familiar with Chrysler's management said the company has been given no indication that the government will require any changes at the automaker, which has been led by former Home Depot CEO Robert Nardelli since August 2007. The person also spoke on condition of anonymity because Obama's plan has not been made public. Wagoner joined GM in 1977 after graduating from Harvard Business School. He became the company's president and CEO in June 2000 and was elected chairman May 1, 2003. The company is struggling with a sharp decline in auto sales resulting from the worldwide economic slowdown and a burdensome cost structure. The Bush administration approved $13.4 billion in loans for GM in December, but the automaker has said it needs more aid. GM shares closed Friday at $3.62, up 21 cents.