Keeping up with GM's Fritz Henderson

The CEO of General Motors wants to move fast to get his company out of bankruptcy as soon as possible.

EMAIL  |   PRINT  |   SHARE  |   RSS
google my aol my msn my yahoo! netvibes
Paste this link into your favorite RSS desktop reader
See all RSS FEEDS (close)
By Alex Taylor III, senior editor

New GM's new cars
GM is launching a slate of new products. Can they give a lift to the auto giant as it enters a new era?
What investment strategy will you follow for the rest of the year?
  • Aggressively buying stocks
  • Slowly adding more stocks
  • Beefing up bonds and cash
  • Not changing a thing

Find your next Car

DETROIT (Fortune) -- General Motors is racing through the early stages of its bankruptcy, in the hope of emerging as a new, independent company by August or early September.

It's a breakneck pace, dictated by CEO Fritz Henderson, who succeeded Rick Wagoner as CEO on March 29, 2009.

Henderson operates at race-track speeds, and speed will be the hallmark of the Henderson era at GM. He talks about it constantly: How he will eliminate layers in the GM bureaucracy to speed up decision making, and empower subordinates to make decisions further down in the organization.

Henderson practices what he preaches. Instead of waiting until he has all of the available data before making a call, he likes to run when he has just four-fifths of it in hand. "Give me 80% of the information and almost every decision will be the right decision, and not wait around for the last 20%. That takes a lot of time and time has real value," he says.

I spoke with him recently at GM headquarters in Detroit. Henderson talks fast, and is never, apparently, at a loss for words.

He hopes GM (GMGMQ) will emerge from bankruptcy like an alcoholic who has not only sworn off booze, but gone on a diet, undergone a religious conversion, and gotten a face lift.

Shorn of surplus brands, surplus capacity, surplus dealers, and surplus debt, he believes the company will have an opportunity to pay attention to sales and marketing in ways it hasn't had to before.

Unlike his predecessors, Henderson plans to focus on the revenue side of the business, developing better products, building stronger brands, and selling them smarter.

'We give a challenge to our product development organization," he says. "We're going to have 34 nameplates in our lineup. Every one has got to be a winner. It is not like we are trying to do 70 or 80."

He also wants GM to focus on the here and now. "The days when General Motors would say 'just wait for the products of the future' [are over]. I'm just as excited about marketing to someone who is in the market today."

Henderson is far more bottom-line oriented than his predecessors. He's pushed GM's fuel cell program way to the back-burner because it is years from producing a commercial product.

And he is reshaping the company's outlook in other ways, too. "We're never going to get General Motors turned around by just focusing on the Chevrolet Volt {an electric vehicle coming late next year]. I am really excited about that but I am really charged up by the new Chevrolet Equinox, the new Cadillac SRX."

He'll have to move fast. Auto sales have stopped falling year-over-year but they have showed few signs of improvement.

And Henderson's new bosses in Washington, DC are watching carefully. They are the ones, who, without warning, asked for Wagoner's resignation and suggested that Henderson succeed him. If they believe he isn't up to the task, they likely wouldn't hesitate to pull the trigger again.

"In my case, there are no guarantees," says Henderson. "I think my job is always on the line, but that's okay." For some executives, that would cause them to anxiously move more quickly, but with Henderson you get the feeling he is already operating at the speed limit. To top of page

Company Price Change % Change
Ford Motor Co 8.29 0.05 0.61%
Advanced Micro Devic... 54.59 0.70 1.30%
Cisco Systems Inc 47.49 -2.44 -4.89%
General Electric Co 13.00 -0.16 -1.22%
Kraft Heinz Co 27.84 -2.20 -7.32%
Data as of 2:44pm ET
Index Last Change % Change
Dow 32,627.97 -234.33 -0.71%
Nasdaq 13,215.24 99.07 0.76%
S&P 500 3,913.10 -2.36 -0.06%
Treasuries 1.73 0.00 0.12%
Data as of 6:29am ET
More Galleries
10 of the most luxurious airline amenity kits When it comes to in-flight pampering, the amenity kits offered by these 10 airlines are the ultimate in luxury More
7 startups that want to improve your mental health From a text therapy platform to apps that push you reminders to breathe, these self-care startups offer help on a daily basis or in times of need. More
5 radical technologies that will change how you get to work From Uber's flying cars to the Hyperloop, these are some of the neatest transportation concepts in the works today. More
Worry about the hackers you don't know 
Crime syndicates and government organizations pose a much greater cyber threat than renegade hacker groups like Anonymous. Play
GE CEO: Bringing jobs back to the U.S. 
Jeff Immelt says the U.S. is a cost competitive market for advanced manufacturing and that GE is bringing jobs back from Mexico. Play
Hamster wheel and wedgie-powered transit 
Red Bull Creation challenges hackers and engineers to invent new modes of transportation. Play

Most stock quote data provided by BATS. Market indices are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer. Morningstar: © 2018 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Factset: FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2018. All rights reserved. Chicago Mercantile Association: Certain market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. Dow Jones: The Dow Jones branded indices are proprietary to and are calculated, distributed and marketed by DJI Opco, a subsidiary of S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC and have been licensed for use to S&P Opco, LLC and CNN. Standard & Poor's and S&P are registered trademarks of Standard & Poor's Financial Services LLC and Dow Jones is a registered trademark of Dow Jones Trademark Holdings LLC. All content of the Dow Jones branded indices © S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC 2018 and/or its affiliates.