Last updated: August 12, 2010 9:22 pm

Whitacre to step down as GM chief

Ed Whitacre unexpectedly announced on Thursday that he was stepping down as chief executive of General Motors on September 1, to be replaced by Dan Akerson, a telecoms and finance veteran and board member of the US government-controlled carmaker.

Mr Whitacre, a former head of AT&T who became GM’s chairman when it emerged from bankruptcy protection in July 2009, and its chief executive that December, said the decision to leave was his own. Mr Akerson will also replace him as chairman by the end of the year.

The announcement came after GM reported net earnings of $1.3bn for the three months to June 30 – its second consecutive profitable quarter, and its best since 2004. The carmaker is preparing for an initial public offering that will allow the US and Canadian governments to begin recouping the $60bn of taxpayer aid paid since 2008.

“It was my public duty to help return this company to greatness, and I didn’t want to stay a day beyond that, really,” Mr Whitacre said.

GM is expected to file documentation with the US Securities and Exchange Commission on Friday or Monday, paving the way for an IPO soon. The company would not comment on its listing plans.

Mr Whitacre’s decision to step down took even senior GM executives by surprise, some of whom were not informed of the decision until Thursday.

According to a US stock exchange filing made in February, he is entitled to a base salary of $1.7m, plus stock options worth $7.3m.

Mr Akerson, 61, was appointed to GM’s board last year when Mr Whitacre became chairman. He has been with Carlyle Group since 2003 – currently as head of global buy-out – and joined the private equity group after serving as chairman and chief executive of XO and chairman of Nextel, the telecoms companies. One former colleague described him on Thursday as “a former Navy guy who carries himself like a marine ... he is not known for his diplomacy or saying something in the mildest, most humane way.”

A second new boss in less than a year, with no previous car industry experience, is likely to raise questions over the future of America’s biggest domestic producer and the largest industrial company to benefit from a bail-out. Mr Whitacre, 68, is credited with simplifying GM’s organisation and transforming its culture.

The carmaker reported higher global sales and market share for the quarter, led by a recovery in the US. But it reported a quarterly $200m pre-tax loss in Europe, and a $500m drop in earnings before interest and tax to $700m at its international operations, where it lost market share in China, Brazil and India.

Additional reporting by Henny Sender in New York

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