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GM Prepares For New CIO

Ralph Szygenda's incoming successor, Terry Kline, will have to prove he's a tough negotiator with IT providers, at a time when the troubled automaker is at its most vulnerable.

Ralph Szygenda has been a formidable presence as CIO at General Motors, with expectations so tough for the IT services firms GM heavily relies on, Szygenda hasn't always made friends in the process.

Incoming CIO Terry Kline is described by one former colleague as someone so well-liked, "people would walk through walls for him." But he'll have to prove he's a tough negotiator when large IT contracts with HP/EDS and several other firms come up for renewal within the next few years.

The top IT leadership at GM will change on Oct. 1, when Szygenda resigns. The change will have implications for both the troubled automaker's future success and for the IT services industry that benefits from more than $2 billion a year GM spends on IT.

GM's announcement Thursday of Szygenda's resignation was grouped with several other executive resignations, including some still in their 50s, and comes at a time when there's a lot of pressure on GM to make sweeping cultural changes following its bankruptcy filing.

Yet despite how the announcement was made, Szygenda said he was not asked to leave GM. In fact, Szygenda said, CEO Fritz Henderson tried to persuade him to stay on the job for at least another year.

"But turning 61 in September and being the CIO of GM for 13.5 years, I thought it was the right time to retire and move on to other opportunities," Szygenda said in an email. "I stayed through the bankruptcy and now as GM moves into its next stage, I thought it best to select one of my direct reports to take the position."

Kline, Szygenda said, "has the knowledge, acumen and temperament to make a fine CIO for GM, and we will work together to ensure a smooth, seamless transition--so that we’ll not miss a beat at continuing to deliver the best IT for GM."

Kline's product development and international experience played big roles in landing him the job. Kline, who joined GM in 2000, serves as the company's global product development officer, responsible for coordinating product development process reengineering activities, and implementing information systems across GM's business sectors.

His experience in auto development and information systems implementation "are integral to driving GM's common global development processes," according to Kline's bio, which GM provided to InformationWeek on Friday.

Prior to that role, Kline was CIO for GM Asia Pacific. "He's very sharp, very intelligent, really understands technology, and is dedicated to all get-out," said the former colleague who worked closely with Kline at GM, and spoke on condition of anonymity.

"This man would get on an airplane and literally travel around the world, from one location to the next, to try and ensure all global processes he was involved in were properly executed in the technology systems. And Kline would "encourage and lift up emotionally and professionally his team and people around him," a style that coworkers and suppliers might perceive as more "positive" than Szygenda's tough approach, this person said.

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