Robert Hendry, the new chairman of Adam Opel AG, will run both Saab and Opel for a year or two until General Motors finds a new Saab chief, said GM Chairman Jack Smith.
GM named Hendry to the top job at Opel after the German subsidiary's supervisory board indicated it would reject GM management's first choice, Peter Hanenberger.
Hendry's appointment ended yet another clash between GM's top Detroit executives and Opel's supervisory board.
The Opel board was angry that GM did not consult its members before the decision was made to transfer Opel chairman Gary Cowger back to Detroit. Cowger was only four months into the job.
Hanenberger, was Smith's choice for the top Opel job. Hanenberger is the Opel board member for research and development. Some board members, including union representatives, blame Hanenberger for many of Opel's quality problems.
After several days of negotiations with the Opel board, GM named Hendry to the post. GM also promoted 60-year-old Wolfgang Strinz, Opel's head of personnel, to deputy chairman. Strinz will run Opel manufacturing.
In an interview last week with Automotive News, Smith said GM will assign operational chiefs at Opel and Saab to help Hendry with day-to-day duties. Hendry will run both operations for 'probably one to two years,' Smith said. 'Then we'll have someone else at Saab, and Hendry will focus more on Opel.'
Until GM names a new Saab chairman, Hendry will split his time between Russelsheim, Germany, and Trollhatten, Sweden, the respective headquarters of Opel and Saab. At Opel, Strinz will assist Hendry, while GM has not yet named Hendry's assistant at Saab.
Smith said he expects morale within Opel to improve. GM has given its European operations the necessary resources to handle its design responsibilities, Smith said.
'We've added a huge amount of employment at the technical center in Russelsheim,' Smith said. 'Our focus is clearly there. The resistance (within Opel) really related to a feeling that we were moving too fast (in overseas markets),' Smith said.
Now, however, GM's plans for overseas expansion are mostly complete. With an economic downturn in
South America and Asia slowing GM's entry into those markets, 'I don't see that (Opel's overburdened engineering resources) as a huge problem going forward.'
Hendry, 54, has been president and chief executive officer at Saab since August 1996.
A long-time ally of Smith, Hendry has been with GM for 34 years. He has vast international experience and has held management positions in the USA, Canada, Switzerland, the UK and Mexico.
Like many of GM's top executives, Hendry's background is in finance. In his new job at Opel, he will focus on creating a strong brand identity for the marque. In his post as Saab president, Hendry has led a gradual recovery from years of losses.
Strinz is an engineer with extensive experience in manufacturing and dealing with organized labor. He ran Opel's huge Bochum factory and held important posts at the plant in Figueruelas, Spain.
As Opel's chief union negotiator since 1993, Strinz helped strike vital agreements with unions. These included the introduction of flexible working and tying the Christmas bonus to a cut in days taken off sick.