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New GM CFO brings investing skills to the job

New GM CFO brings investing skills to the job

Chris Liddell steps down April 1 after helping pull off the largest US IPO ever. Fellow Kiwi promises 'more of the same'

In stepping in as finance chief at General Motors, an automaker reborn in a post-bankruptcy IPO in July 2009, 38-year-old Treasurer Daniel Ammann brings years of experience in investment banking at Morgan Stanley, and before that at Credit Suisse. Unlike fellow New Zealander Chris Liddell, who is stepping down as CFO after just over a year on the job, he lacks experience in the role of corporate finance chief.

Before joining GM as CFO in January 2010, the 52-year-old Liddell had served as CFO at Microsoft, and before that at International Paper.

Speculation swirled yesterday about whether Liddell's departure in part reflected his having been passed over for the CEO's job when Daneiel F. Akerson was selected last fall. For his part, Liddell said only that there had been "no wider context" than that he had accomplished his job, and found it the "time to move on."

"More of the Same"

Ammann, who told reporters he pictured doing "more of the same" in the CFO's job, was named vice president, finance, and treasurer of the Detroit-based automaking giant last April. In leading the New York-based treasurer's office, he oversees other operations in Detroit, Shanghai and Zurich -- where capital markets activities, capital planning, business development, risk management, worldwide pension funding, banking and finance are his purview.

GM has had three chief executive officers and two chief financial officers since emerging from a government-backed bankruptcy in July 2009, Bloomberg News reported. It noted that Liddell's exit follows the departures of powertrain Vice President Jamie Hresko last week and GM do Brazil President Denise Johnson on Feb. 22. "They had management problems that caused the company to go into bankruptcy, and they still do," Maryann Keller, principal of a self-titled consulting firm in Stamford, Conn., told the news service. "It smacks of confusion at the highest ranks of GM."

Before joining GM, Ammann had been managing director and head of Industrial Investment Banking at Morgan Stanley, serving in that post since 2004. During his 11 years at Morgan Stanley, he had been involved with assignments that included technology, service, and manufacturing clients. "His diverse experience includes mergers, acquisitions, raising capital, and restructuring, and he advised GM during its restructuring and subsequent Section 363 sale," GM's bio says of him, adding that he also had spent five years at Credit Suisse in New York and New Zealand.

GM fell 83 cents, or 2.6 percent, to $31.42 at 4:01 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. The shares have dropped 4.8 percent from their initial public offering price in November.

Liddell's Strategy Differences

In addition to being unhappy about being passed over for the CEO last August, Bloomberg reported, Liddell also had differed with members of the management team over some strategies, including GM's move into consumer auto lending, the person said.

He opposed acquiring subprime lender AmeriCredit Inc., which GM agreed to buy in July, the person said. Liddell had told analysts that he didn't want the risk of financial assets on an industrial company's balance sheet.

Chairman Ed Whitacre replaced onetime finance chief Fritz Henderson as CEO in December 2009, a month before Liddell succeeded Ray Young, who is now CFO of Archer Daniels Midland Co.

"Liddell did not go to GM to be CFO forever," Keller said. "He had to join GM with the presumption that he was the heir apparent. When they picked someone else, he wasn't going to stay."

In addition to saying he had Liddell accomplished all he wanted both at GM and as a CFO, and now wanted to pursue something different, Liddell told reporters:

"My CFO days might be behind me as of April 1. I have a number of interesting ideas but none of them have CFO on it." To comment on this article, please email the editor.

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