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What's Really Driving the GM Shakeup?

Chris Liddell
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Chris Liddell

Chris Liddell wants a new challenge.

At the end of the day, that's the reason GM's CFO is leaving the automaker just 15 months after he stepped into job.

His resignation will once again bring up questions about the stability of GM's management and when this revolving door of executives will finally slow down.

Interesting questions for sure, but in the case of Liddell this is all about ambition- his ambition. When he took the GM CFO job, nobody would admit it publicly, but it was in hopes of someday running the troubled automaker. After all, he'd been CFO at Microsoft , so taking over as GM's CFO was no great challenge. I suspect his hope was to steer GM through bankruptcy, through an IPO and then at some point in the future get a shot at running the company.

So what happened?

The sudden departure of former CEO Ed Whitacre Jr. threw a monkey wrench in those plans. When Whitacre suddenly left, the GM board picked fellow board member Dan Akerson to run the company. And given the fact GM was churning through CEO's, Akerson and GM both realized he needs to bring stability to the GM leadership by staying in charge of the company for several years. So where did that leave Liddell? As CFO waiting three or four years for a CEO opening he may or may not get.

On the GM conference call I asked him if the idea of leaving GM was planted in his mind when Akerson got the top job. Liddell told me, "This is something I have been anguishing over for just the last few weeks Phil. And with the transition from Ed to Dan, which I think went incredibly well, my real focus at that stage was getting the IPO done. That was the primary focus and I didn't have any other expectations other than that and I didn't when I joined the company."

Liddell went on to say, "You know I came in to do the things that to the large extent we have been able to achieve and you know I was going to let things go from there. This decision is really just one that Dan Akerson and I have been talking about for the last week or so and then I made the decision earlier this week. It really doesn't pre-date that. There is no wider context then I have done to a large extent what I hoped to achieve as CFO and it is a good time to move on."

That answer won't satisfy those who are looking for a deeper, juicier reason for Liddell resigning. The man wants a new challenge. He's in his early fifties, highly regarded and ambitious. More power to him if he can find the gig he's looking for.

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