General Motors lures Chris Liddell to top financial post

Far from taking a corporate breather after leaving Microsoft, New Zealand’s highest ranked business executive, Chris Liddell, is to take a top position at General Motors.

Mr Liddell, 51, will become chief financial officer and vice chairman at the Detroit-based  US car giant on January 1, He will succeed Ray Young, who becomes GM’s vice president of international operations on February 1.

In a then surprise move, Mr Liddell announced late in November that he would leave Microsoft, where he was CFO.

Chris Liddell with Sir Don McKinnon on a recent visit to Auckland

His latest move will help GM chairman and chief executive officer Ed Whitacre shore up a financial operation criticised by the US Treasury’s auto task force.

Observers have noted that by hiring an outsider such as Mr Liddell, Mr Whitacre will strengthen his hold over the GM management structure since becoming CEO on December 1 when the board ousted Fritz Henderson.

Mr Liddell joined Microsoft in 2005 and was the first outsider to be named finance chief in more than two decades. He oversaw $US3 billion of expense reductions in the past fiscal year, including Microsoft’s first companywide job cuts, and its first bond offering.

Before that he was CFO at International Paper, then the owner of Carter Holt Harvey, where Mr Liddell was CEO.

In his statement announcing the appointment, Mr Whitacre says: “Chris brings a depth and experience to this job that were unmatched. Chris will lead our financial and accounting operations on a global basis and will report directly to me.”

Mr Whitacre is also an outsider to the auto business. He is the former AT&T chairman and CEO, who was named in June to lead a revamped GM board,

Bloomberg reports the GM finance group has been thinned by cost cuts and voluntary departures as staff members jumped to other jobs during GM’s slide toward a June 1 bankruptcy filing.

Stronger financial controls will be pivotal as GM works to end losses of at least $US88 billion from 2004 until its June 1 bankruptcy filing. In November, GM said it had generated $US3.3 billion in cash in the third quarter while losing $US1.15 billion.

Since emerging from bankruptcy in July, GM has had a difficult time disposing of brands it no longer wants, including Saturn, Saab and Hummer.

A deal to sell Saturn to Penske Automotive Group collapsed in September. And last week GM said it had been unable to find a buyer for Sweden-based Saab and would shut it down.

However, it is still considering offers for Saab, including one from Dutch sportscar maker Spyker Cars.

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