Former AT&T Exec Ed Whitacre To Lead GM

The 6-foot-4-inch Texan retired from AT&T less than two years ago after taking over the old SBC telecom business.

W. David Gardner, Contributor

June 9, 2009

2 Min Read

Ed Whitacre Jr., former chairman and CEO of AT&T, has been picked as chairman of General Motors to lead the automaker out of its bankruptcy malaise, the company said Tuesday.

Telecom veteran Whitacre created the new AT&T by acquiring hundreds of billions of dollars worth of smaller telecom businesses, often referred to as Baby Bells. At the helm of GM, Whitacre will review the carmaker's business and restructure GM units to help the company emerge from bankruptcy, potentially as early as this summer.

"I am honored to be able to serve GM at this critical juncture and take part in its reinvention," Whitacre, 67, said in a statement.

GM interim chairman Kent Kresa announced Whitacre's appointment. Whitacre, a 6-foot-4-inch Texan, retired from AT&T less than two years ago after taking over the old Southwestern Bell (SBC) in 1990 and forging it into the world's largest telecommunications company by market capitalization. He had spent more than 40 years in the company, then based in San Antonio.

Whitacre changed the company's name to SBC and went on an acquisition warpath, acquiring several Baby Bells, including Ameritech, Pacific Telesis, SNET, and BellSouth. His last major acquisition was AT&T, which was the only piece left from the old AT&T brand name that had been left some two decades earlier after the old AT&T -- often called Ma Bell -- was ordered broken up by government regulators.

When Whitacre pieced together his AT&T, state and federal regulators, noting that the old AT&T had been broken up to foster competition, worried that the U.S. telecommunications industry was on its way to becoming a monopoly again. But Whitacre observed that new competition was emerging in the form of cable and wireless companies.

Whitacre is a board member of Exxon Mobile and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe. His only immediately known connection to GM is the Cadillac he has been known to drive.

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