Image: Ed Whitacre
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"We want you to step up. We don't want any bureaucracy," GM Chairman Ed Whitacre told employees.
updated 12/4/2009 4:43:00 PM ET 2009-12-04T21:43:00

General Motors Co. Chairman Ed Whitacre Jr. urged the troubled automaker's employees to forget their old bureaucratic culture, telling them Friday not to fear being fired for taking risks.

Whitacre, who also announced key management changes, wants to speed up the automaker's shift to an entrepreneurial culture where decisions are made quickly.

"We want you to step up. We don't want any bureaucracy," Whitacre told employees, strolling back and forth across a stage at the company's headquarters here. "We're not going to make it if you won't take a risk," he told the audience of 800.

In a 45-minute presentation that was broadcast to employees on internal television networks and over the Internet, Whitacre also unveiled a mission statement to design, build and sell the world's best vehicles.

Self-deprecating humor
Whitacre, who peppered his address with self-deprecating humor, named Vice Chairman Bob Lutz, who has long advocated for a more risk-taking culture, as his adviser for product development.

Whitacre also said he is recombining sales and marketing, placing them under Susan Docherty. She became head of sales when former CEO Fritz Henderson separated the roles of sales and marketing. Henderson left the company earlier this week.

Lutz, 77, who had been in charge of marketing, will help Whitacre learn about the business, he said.

In another key move, the chairman, who joined GM in June, promoted engineering chief Mark Reuss to run North American operations. Reuss recently was named head of engineering, and before that ran the company's Holden operations in Australia.

GM board member Stephen Girsky, a former auto analyst with Morgan Stanley, also will be an adviser to Whitacre. Girsky worked briefly as an analyst in the treasurer's office at GM in the late 1980s, and also was an adviser to former CEO Rick Wagoner in 2005 and 2006.

During his speech, Whitacre set a tone of humility and encouraged employees to give him ideas.

"I'm on the 39th floor of the RenCen. You're all welcome," he said, referring to GM's headquarters. He also said he would be roving around GM's operations, drawing laughter. Recently, former auto task force leader Stephen Rattner criticized GM executives for using a private elevator that took them directly to their offices, bypassing employees.

Revive Pontiac or Hummer?
When one employee asked Whitacre if he would consider reviving the Pontiac or Saab brands, Whitacre shrugged.

"I'd say the probability is low. But I don't know. I'm new to this business," he said.

He was also effusive with his praise, calling GM "intellectually better" than its rivals.

"You're a terrific bunch of employees. You have our support. Let's go hit it and make this thing big," he said.

Whitacre also named new leaders in several other key positions.

Nick Reilly, who has been leading restructuring efforts in Europe, was named president of GM Europe.

Tim Lee, GM's former manufacturing and labor chief, was named president of GM International Operations, overseeing GM's Asia-Pacific, Latin America, Africa, and Middle East operations. Diana Tremblay, GM's former labor relations chief, is now vice president of manufacturing and labor relations.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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