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GM Reliever Sent to the Clubhouse

• CNN Money

NEW YORK ( -- In a surprise move, General Motors chief executive Fritz Henderson resigned Tuesday, giving the battered government-owned automaker its third boss in less than a year.

The move was announced by GM Chairman Ed Whitacre following what he described as a "hectic" meeting of the company's board of directors, which had been put in place with government oversight after the company's trip through bankruptcy earlier this year.

Whitacre said he will take over as CEO of the nation's largest automaker until a replacement is found, and that a search for a new president and CEO would start immediately.

The Treasury Department, which owns 61% of GM stock, was informed of the move but not consulted in advance, according to GM spokesman Chris Preuss.

An administration official said the decision "was made by the board of directors alone" and that the administration was not involved in the decision.

Henderson, 51, a career GM employee, took over as CEO after Rick Wagoner was forced out in March by the Obama administration as part of GM's government-supervised restructuring.

Whitacre did not answer any questions about the change or the reasons behind them.

"While momentum has been building over the past several months, all involved agree that changes needed to be made," he said.

At the time of his appointment as CEO, many analysts questioned whether Henderson, who has worked at GM for 25 years since graduating from business school, was the right executive to change GM's insular culture.

Others have said, however, that bringing in an outsider would have been risky given the size and scope of GM and the complexity of its problems.

Steven Rattner, the former head of a Treasury task force that led the government takeover, wrote in Fortune in October that Henderson was originally offered the title of interim CEO but asked not to have the "interim" attached to his title because he didn't want his authority undercut.

For his part, Henderson had pointed out that the board could fire him at any time.

Whitacre said Tuesday that he and the board are convinced that GM is moving in the right direction.

But GM recently reported a loss of $1.2 billion since its emergence from bankruptcy on July 10 through Sept. 30. Meanwhile, rivals Toyota Motor (TM) and Ford Motor (F, Fortune 500) reported surprise profits in the period due to the spike in sales from the Cash for Clunkers program.

Henderson announced then that GM would start to repay its $6.7 billion loan to Treasury and make a $1 billion payment by the end of the year. But the government's ability to recover most of the $50 billion it sunk into the reorganization of GM will depend on its ability to sell stock to the public at an improved price.

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