Page last updated at 17:22 GMT, Friday, 10 July 2009 18:22 UK

New GM enrols ex chief boy scout

Edward Whitacre Jr
Mr Whitacre faces a tough challenge

As a leaner General Motors (GM) emerged from bankruptcy, its new chairman made his first public appearance in the job.

Speaking at the Detroit press conference, Edward Whitacre Jr, a former national president of the Boy Scouts of America, said the last few weeks had been extremely challenging.

"There have been a lot of long hours, there has been a shutting of plants, there have been painful layoffs," he said.

Mr Whitacre has most certainly got his work cut out.

He has huge experience of building and restructuring massive organisations, dealing with unions and pensions. He's a top candidate for this job

Martin Mabbutt
Telecoms analyst, Nomura

When GM filed for bankruptcy protection last month, it marked the biggest failure of an industrial company in US history.

Once the largest firm in the world, it has been losing market share since the early 1980s.

But it still employs 235,000 people across every major region of the world, and does business in some 140 countries.

Telecoms background

Mr Whitacre's background though is in telecommunications, not the car industry.

He is quoted as saying he doesn't know anything about cars, but a business is a business, and the principles are the same.

During an interview with Geoff Gilbert of WWJ Newsradio Detroit he said: "I know a good car when I see one".

Nomura's telecoms analyst Martin Mabbutt is in no doubt Mr Whitacre is the right man to tackle the considerable problems which lie ahead.

"He has huge experience of building and restructuring massive organisations, dealing with unions and pensions," said Mr Mabbutt.

"He's a top candidate for this job."

The former chairman and chief executive of telecoms giant AT&T, engineering graduate Mr Whitacre began his career with Southwestern Bell Corporation (SBC) in the 1960s as an engineer.

By 1988 he'd become president and chief operating officer of the corporation. Two years later, Mr Whitacre became chairman and chief executive.

Under him, SBC, through a number of mergers and acquisitions, became AT&T, one of the largest providers of telephone services in the US.

Honour

He retired from AT&T two years ago after seeing the firm through some major restructuring.

Telcoms industry analyst Victor Schnee has called the GM post a "bizarre appointment".

"The guy accomplished a number of things in telecoms and we all thought the book was closed [after his retirement]."

After his 44 years at the company, 17 of which were spent as chairman and chief executive, AT&T thought enough of his achievements to rename its San Antonio headquarters building Whitacre Tower.



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