Chris Liddell named GM CFO

By Chris Isidore, senior writer

NEW YORK ( -- General Motors, the insular automaker with a tradition of appointing only company veterans to most of its top executive ranks, found a new chief financial officer from outside the auto industry altogether.

Chris Liddell, who is the outgoing CFO at Microsoft (MSFT, Fortune 500), will join GM in the new year as vice chairman and CFO. He has held that position at the software giant since May 2005, and previously served as CFO at International Paper (IP, Fortune 500) and as CEO of Carter Holt Harvey Ltd., then New Zealand's second-largest listed company.

"Chris brings a depth and experience to this job that were unmatched in our search for a new financial leader," said Ed Whitacre, who became GM chairman and CEO on Dec. 1 when the board asked for Fritz Henderson's resignation. "We're looking to his experience and insights in corporate strategy as a member of the senior leadership team in helping our restructuring efforts."

GM is also currently looking for a new CEO to serve on a permanent basis, although it has not given a timeframe for when that search will be complete. A GM spokesman declined to comment when asked whether the company would consider Liddell for the CEO slot, potentially transitioning him from the CFO role.

Liddell, 51, is a native of New Zealand. His Dec. 31 departure from Microsoft was announced by the company a month ago. A Microsoft spokesperson said his departure is amicable, and his successor there had already been named.

Liddell replaces Ray Young, whose hold on the CFO position at GM has been tenuous at best for many months. Last week GM announced that Young would be shifted to a new position, vice president, International Operations, once a new CFO was in place.

The CFO position is a key one at GM, which is operating as a new company that was created through the bankruptcy process this past summer. The CFO will head a team that will create a completely new accounting structure so that GM can go public -- a project that's expected to take at least six more months.

GM needs to complete an IPO so that the Treasury can recover the $50 billion of taxpayer funds that it was awarded. In return, the government got a 61% stake in the automaker.

GM's finance department, which Liddell will soon lead, came under harsh criticism from the Treasury Department's auto task force during the debate on whether to bail out the troubled automaker.

Steven Rattner, the former head of that task force, wrote in Fortune in October that he was shocked by the poor quality of financial controls at the automaker, stating it had "perhaps the weakest finance operation any of us had ever seen in a major company." To top of page

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