DETROIT — As tough as it is to restructure General Motors, the biggest test for CEO Fritz Henderson will come afterward.
Henderson has shown the skills and temperament to cut costs, hack away dead wood and run the high-stakes negotiations to clean up GM's balance sheet and keep the company alive.
But once a leaner GM emerges from this traumatic restructuring, Henderson will have another challenge, one for which his years as a globe-trotting financial fix-it man have not necessarily trained him.
Can he lead the rebuilding of GM's brands, the rehabilitation of the company in the public's mind and the sale of millions of vehicles at a high profit?
Henderson's post-restructuring GM will have to choose the right products and marketing to boost revenue. Can the numbers guy make things happen on the revenue side?
In an interview shortly after he was named CEO, Henderson said he understands the challenge.
"Nobody's ever shrunk their way to profitability in the business," he said. "Most of the time you just shrink your way to more losses."
CEOs who restructure companies often depart once the dirty business is finished. At Chrysler LLC, CEO Bob Nardelli was hired in 2007 by owner Cerberus Capital Management LLP to shape up the automaker financially. But he will not be CEO of the post-bankruptcy company.
Henderson's credentials in cost-cutting, restructuring and negotiations are well-established. A graduate of the University of Michigan with a Harvard MBA, Henderson — like Rick Wagoner, his predecessor as CEO — started his GM career in the automaker's treasurer's office in New York.
After rising through the ranks, he took on troubleshooter assignments as head of Europe, Asia and America.
Henderson became chairman of GM Europe in 2004 as a modest restructuring plan, Project Olympia, was fizzling. He spearheaded a tougher plan, cutting 12,000 jobs — including 10,000 high-wage jobs in Germany.
His tenure at GM Asia Pacific from 2002 to 2004 had included delicate negotiations to extract GM from its 49 percent share of money-losing Isuzu. Working with Asian bankers, Henderson reduced GM's stake but walked away with a key prize: control of plants that make the V-8 diesel Duramax engines used in GM's full-sized pickups.
Henderson also has been in the thick of bargaining with GM's bankrupt former parts unit, Delphi Corp. And at key times, he joined in the crucial 2007 negotiations with the UAW.
Last week, it was Henderson who smoothed over the German government's anger over Opel's short-term cash needs.
Through it all, he has remained even-tempered and matter-of-fact. His frank discussion of the possibility of bankruptcy — anathema to Wagoner — is typical. At his first press conference as GM CEO, Henderson, in his typically clipped voice, laid out the company's restructuring options: "We're not going to compromise the objectives. The objectives are clear. If we cannot do that out of court, we will do it in court."