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Originally published March 10, 2011 at 6:11 PM | Page modified March 10, 2011 at 9:57 PM

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GM Chief Financial Officer Chris Liddell resigns

The top financial executive who helped guide General Motors back to profitability and then its return to being a publicly traded company stepped down suddenly Thursday after being passed over for the top job.

The top financial executive who helped guide General Motors back to profitability and then its return to being a publicly traded company stepped down suddenly Thursday after being passed over for the top job.

GM Chief Financial Officer Chris Liddell — who worked at the automaker only since January 2010, leaving his job as CFO of Microsoft with an eye on taking a higher position — said he had achieved his goals for GM and no longer wanted to be a top finance executive.

"I won't be a CFO again," Liddell, 52, said.

GM's board passed over Liddell in its search for a new chief executive last year when Edward E. Whitacre Jr. quit, settling on Dan Akerson instead. Akerson, 62, has said his stay at GM would not be short but hasn't given details. For Liddell, that could mean years before he gets a second shot at the top job.

"I don't have any specific plans," Liddell said in a hastily arranged conference call with reporters Thursday. "I have a number of interesting ideas in the back of mind, and none of them have 'CFO' on them."

If Liddell's aim is to return as CEO of a major technology company, there aren't many seats open. One that is: Advanced Micro Devices, Intel's largest competitor in making microprocessors for personal computers. AMD, based in Sunnyvale, Calif., ousted its CEO in January and is searching for a replacement. The interim chief doesn't want the permanent job.

Liddell's resignation is likely to make GM investors nervous because it's the latest in a slew of senior executive changes at the automaker, said Brian Johnson, an analyst at Barclays Capital.

"Unexpected, abrupt CFO departures are often interpreted as negative," Johnson said. "On top of four CEOs over the past two years, GM is now on to its fourth CFO in the same time period."

He said investors would be looking for guidance on "whether the departure changes GM's current conservative financial strategy."

On a down day for the stock market, GM shares fell 83 cents, or 2.6 percent, to $31.42. It is now trading below the $33 price the shares sold for when the company went public in November.

Liddell had previously set as one of his goals the full funding of GM's pension plan. He also set a strategy of using GM's finance division to do more leasing and subprime lending.

Last month, GM posted its first annual profit in six years. GM earned $4.7 billion, compared with a loss of $21 billion a year earlier. It was a dramatic turnaround from the 2005-09 period, during which the automaker lost $100 billion. Annual sales increased almost 30 percent to $135.6 billion from $104.6 billion in 2009.

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Liddell will be succeeded by Dan Ammann, 38, GM's vice president for finance and its treasurer.

Akerson said that Ammann and Liddell have worked closely together, share the same financial strategy and outlook and that the transition should be seamless.

The sudden resignation continues a churn of senior employees at GM, which underwent a bankruptcy restructuring and government bailout in 2009. The federal government still owns a 27 percent stake in GM when all of the outstanding options for shares held by various parties are included.

All the changes have left GM with few top leaders with a global view of the auto business, and that could hurt the company this year, said Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, a professor at the Yale School of Management and an expert on corporate governance.

"The place is in turmoil needlessly," he said.

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