GM CFO Chris Liddell To Step Down April 1.
SAN FRANCISCO (MarketWatch) — The Microsoft guy who brought his much-needed financial chops to General Motors Co. when the Detroit auto maker needed them the most is on his way out after just a year on the job.
GM /quotes/comstock/13*!gm/quotes/nls/gm (GM 31.50, +0.08, +0.26%) , in yet another surprise shake-up, announced before the market opened on Thursday that CFO Chris Liddell will step down on April 1.
Taking his place is a 38-year-old Morgan Stanley alum. And investors don’t seem to like it one bit. The shares lost as much as 4% to $30.95 initially, carrying GM further from its $33 public offering price in November. The stock curbed its declines later in the day to close down 2.6% at $31.42
“The departure of Liddell is not great news,” GimmeCredit bond analyst Kim Noland said. “He has provided a steady capability for the new GM’s financial policies, including a strong balance sheet and conservative view of GM’s mission as a recovering industrial company.”
She added that he will also be missed as “the face” of the new and improved company to the analyst and financial community.
“Chris was a major contributor during a pivotal time in the company’s history,” GM Chairman and CEO Dan Akerson said in a brief statement. “He guided the company’s IPO process and established a good financial foundation for the future.”
Poof. That’s about it. A terse acknowledgment and send-off without much of an explanation. Did Liddell leave because he didn’t get the CEO job, as widely speculated? Where is he going? Is the churn in GM’s executive suite over? So many questions, not the least-pressing of which: Who is this guy handling the books now?
Ammann is the man
Well, GM did its best to explain that last one. Dan Ammann will succeed Liddell in what has to have been one of the toughest jobs in the car business over the past few years: Crunching numbers at a failing company riddled with accounting problems.
“My primary goal was to help get the company back on its feet and I’m incredibly proud of what we were able to achieve in a relatively short amount of time,” Liddell told reporters during a conference call in which he essentially swore off taking another job as CFO.
Ammann is taking over at a relatively upbeat time. GM is different now, and Liddell deserves much of the credit. The company has enjoyed four straight quarters of profits, its balance sheet is much healthier and its reporting process seems to be in relatively good shape.
“Although we’re sad to see Chris go, we have the benefit of having a strong leader in Dan Ammann who has played a major role in the financial decisions over the last year,” Akerson said in a conference call.
He explained that Ammann was instrumental alongside Liddell in cutting GM’s debt and was also a key player in the IPO process.
The drop in the share price probably isn’t so much an indictment of Ammann as it is a reflection of perceived instability in GM’s top ranks. Once a company that milked decades out of its high-profile executives, GM is now run by a roster of newcomers, outsiders and short-timers.
Oddly enough, Liddell’s brief stint as CFO made him one of the veterans in GM’s circle of power. Look no further than the CEO position for evidence of the unsettled state of leadership. Akerson was hired about six months ago, marking GM’s fourth chief executive in the past two years.
This year alone, Akerson has tapped a new head of global product development and replaced the top executive in GM’s OnStar division. Now, he just turned his treasurer of one year into the finance boss.
Nicholas Colas, chief market strategist for ConvergEx Group, said investors may be overreacting to the changes at the top, pointing out that GM’s historic lack of management turnover led to its demise.
“If forced to make a choice, we’d say the current dynamic model is better than the old sclerotic one,” he said. At the same time, Colas questioned why talented people “don’t seem to want to hang around” and said he hopes Ammann is the exception.
“I’ve known Dan since the 1990s and he is both an extremely hard working and talented financial professional and a man of his word,” Colas said.
So, is the right team finally in place and will it stick around? Judging from the Wall Street reaction, investors need more convincing.
Shawn Langlois is a reporter for MarketWatch in San Francisco.