On Whitacre taking on GM…

Yesterday’s announcement that Ed Whitacre would take the reigns of “the new GM” (GMGMQ) kind of caught me by surprise. Here’s a snip from the press release:

“The appointment of Ed Whitacre as chairman represents a very auspicious beginning for the New GM,” said GM Chairman Kent Kresa. “We look forward to working with him to complete the reinvention of GM and maximize the enormous potential of this new enterprise.”

While the release and most of the media reports, including this WSJ story, focused on Whitacre’s success at reviving a struggling industry and even the AT&T brand, the first thing that came to my mind was his enormous exit package from the company that he got after retiring in 2007. Indeed, the filings don’t paint nearly as flattering a picture of Whitacre. This recent filing from Ameritech/SBC retirees puts the figure he received upon retiring at $158.4 million. Another filing notes that for the five years ended 2005, Whitacre made $85 million while shareholders lost over 40%..

Indeed, even after Whitacre retired, his compensation was still an issue with the SEC, according to this comment letter from last January which raised questions about how well AT&T disclosed compensation to top executives around the merger with Cingular Wireless.

Over on Free Republic , the buzz is that Whitacre must have been some sort of Obama buddy to have gotten this plum job. But a quick search of the records on Open Secret shows that’s clearly not the case. Exhibit A? The $1,000 donation to Hillary Clinton. Exhibit B? The $4,600 in donations to Senator John McCain. .

Indeed, if anything, as the WSJ piece notes, Whitacre has close ties to auto czar Steven Rattner, whose former firm, Lazard Freres, once provided advice on a deal that SBC was involved in. And we’re guessing that it’s probably been a long time since Rattner’s read SEC filings.

Image source: Jae C. Hong / Associated Press