Can Liddell resurrect GM finances?

08:43, December 23, 2009      

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Chris Liddell's to-do list as General Motors Co's chief financial officer includes repaying $6.9 billion in government debt and leading an initial public offering. He also may end up running the biggest US automaker.

"If he performs as advertised, he's probably got a terrific shot at becoming the CEO," said Joseph Phillippi, president of AutoTrends Consulting in Short Hills, New Jersey.

Liddell, a newcomer to the auto industry from Microsoft Corp, faces the challenge of resurrecting the finances of a company that lost $88 billion from 2004 until filing for bankruptcy reorganization on June 1. He will be tasked with taking public again the Detroit-based carmaker that is 61 percent owned by the US.

As CFO at Microsoft from 2005 to last month, Liddell oversaw the world's largest software company's first debt offering this year as well as its first job cuts in January. He reduced travel costs by limiting employees flying business class, and he brought in capital expenditures at 23 percent less than budget in the most recent fiscal year.

"Chris likes big, bold challenges," said Bill Koefoed, Microsoft's general manager of investor relations. "Chris isn't about riding the wave, he's about trying to catch the next wave."

He runs triathlons, has completed an Ironman and does yoga. A Ferrari driver, according to Koefoed, Liddell has an engineering degree from the University of Auckland and a Master's in philosophy from Oxford University.

Once a director of the New Zealand Rugby Union, Liddell, 51, brought a former captain of his homeland's All Blacks rugby team to speak to finance executives and workers, said Koefoed, who worked for Liddell since the end of 2008.

Before Microsoft

Before joining Microsoft in 2005, Liddell was finance chief at International Paper Co, the world's largest paper maker. He was previously CEO at Carter Holt Harvey Ltd, a forestry company in New Zealand, and worked as an investment banker at Credit Suisse First Boston. That link with the finance industry may help Liddell when he needs to take GM public, Phillippi said.

GM Chairman and CEO Ed Whitacre and the company's board liked Liddell's experience as finance chief at two large companies, one focused on industry and the other on consumers, according to a person familiar with the board's deliberations.

The directors also were attracted by his international background and his knowledge of GM's worldwide operations, said the person, who asked not to be identified because the discussions were confidential.

GM's board and Whitacre started talking to Liddell in November, when the CFO search intensified. He met with several board members as GM pared down the list of candidates, the person said. Liddell wasn't hired as a CEO-in-waiting and the search for a leader will continue, the person said.

GM declined to comment beyond the company's statement yesterday, said Chris Preuss, a spokesman. He didn't respond to e-mails requesting interviews with Liddell and Whitacre, 68.

Hiring Liddell gives GM an opportunity to bring in "fresh blood without a whole lot of controversy", said Rebecca Lindland, an analyst at IHS Global Insight in Lexington, Massachusetts.

Source: China Daily
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