Fritz Henderson is back at GM, for $3,000 an hour

By Alex Taylor III, senior editor


NEW YORK (Fortune) -- After resigning as president and CEO of General Motors in December, Fritz Henderson might have gone into hiding or decided to sit out the harsh Michigan winter on a Florida beach.

Instead, here he is popping up again, this time as a consultant to GM on international operations at the very fancy fee of $59,090 a month for 20 hours of work a month. That works out to almost $3,000 an hour for a CEO who was ousted after just eight months on the job.

Is this one of those phony retired CEO arrangements, where the outgoing guy gets a fancy advisory deal to pass on his accumulated knowledge and wisdom to his successor? The phone may never ring, but the retiree gets to pocket a nice piece of change and an opportunity to pretend that he's still in the game.

According to GM insiders, the Henderson deal is on the up-and-up. Nobody can quarrel with his knowledge of GM's global business. While he was still on the regular payroll, he ran Latin America and the Middle East, Asia Pacific, and Europe.

And no one can question his affection and loyalty to the company that his father served before him. Not a disparaging word has been heard from him since he left office.

Again according to insiders, Henderson was likely approached by his former colleague, Tim Lee, who now heads international operations but doesn't have Henderson's thick resume of experience. Like a lot of executives at restructured companies, Lee likely discovered that GM lost volumes of institutional knowledge when it thinned its executive ranks after bankruptcy.

Henderson's successor, chairman and CEO Ed Whitacre, who is said to have signed off on the deal, apparently has enough self-confidence -- despite his lack of industry experience -- not to be threatened by the presence of an ex-CEO on the premises. Especially not one he was instrumental in pushing out of the job.

Although Henderson's compensation seems a little steep, getting him back to work makes sense. Nobody ever questioned his brains or his work ethic; it was his inability to sell Whitacre on his skills as a change agent that did him in.

Perhaps Henderson can set a precedent. GM has another ex-CEO who is still unemployed. Although Rick Wagoner has more miles on him, he still retains plenty of goodwill within the company. Perhaps somebody at GM will think up something that will make use of Wagoner's executive talents too -- like figuring out a way for the automaker to take advantage of Toyota's recent troubles. To top of page

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