Liddell in shock GM resignation; replaced by another Kiwi
ABOVE: Mr Liddell with Sir Don McKinnon during a recent Auckland visit.
Chris Liddell - arguably New Zealand's highest profile businesman - has resigned as General Motors CFO, just four months after leading a triumphant IPO. He joined GM in January last year.
Mr Liddell (52) - a former NZRU director and frequent vistor to NZ - moved to GM from Microsoft, where he was also chief financial officer, and highly regarded for his efforts to trim costs and boost the company's cash position during the global financial crisis.
The move is a surprise.
Although short, Mr Liddell's stint at GM was studded with highlights. The expatriate presided over GM's successful post-bankruptcy IPO, and the associated retirement of $US11 billion in debt. The company also reported its first full-year profit since 2004.
The New York Times reported this morning that Mr Liddell had been widely expected to be among the top candidates when the chief executive role next came up for grabs.
But in a conference call to media, Mr Liddell gave no explanation for his departure, beyond saying that he had achieved what he wanted to in the role.
He said his resignation was not a result of being passed over ahead of Christmas when the board choose Daniel Akerson as new GM's new CEO.
Nor was it a sign that there was financial turbulance ahead, he said. GM investors were not so sure, and the company's shares (NYSE: GM) were down 2.76% in late trading.
Another Kiwi replaces him
As fate would have it, Mr Liddell's replacement, Dan Ammann (38), is another Kiwi.
Mr Ammann (right) currently heads the GM Treasurer´s Office, based in New York.
Before joining GM, Mr Ammann was managing director and head of Industrial Investment Banking for Morgan Stanley. He also spent five years at Credit Suisse in New York and his native New Zealand, where he gained a first class honours degree in Economics and Finance from the University of Waikato.
The Kiwi-replacing-Kiwi promotion seems no accident. Mr Liddell hired Mr Ammann to NZ First Capital in the 1990s, and has been his mentor ever since.
Mr Liddell told the conference call audience that he had “a couple of ideas I’ve been working on” but no specific plans of what he will do next.
But one element is certain.
“I don’t want to be a chief financial officer again,” Mr Liddell said. “I’ve been chief financial officer now of a few public companies, and I really feel like I’ve achieved all I could achieve in the role.”
Read: I want to be a chief executive.
The question now: of which company? (NBR readers - see below - were quick to take a guess at Fonterra. But the Kiwi A-leaguer may also find he has the pick of US blue chips).
One factor - Mr Liddell separated from his wife during his time at GM. NBR understands his new partner is keen on him spending more time in New Zealand.
Our corporate culture could be another attraction.
According to a Reuters report, the one-time Carter Holt-Harvey boss was never comfortable at GM, running the unsourced comment that "the native of New Zealand was an odd fit at a company that is still deeply American at the top, and he sometimes appeared cold to people who worked with him."