General Motors Co has a reasonable chance to show a profit in 2010 and could sell shares by late this year though it has no timetable for an IPO that would reduce the U.S. government's majority stake, Chief Financial Officer Chris Liddell said on Wednesday.
Liddell, speaking to reporters for the first time in his new role after joining GM from Microsoft Corp , said the automaker would not rush into an IPO.
Even in the few months I've been here, I've been encouraged by the progress we've made, but when it will all come together is impossible to say, Liddell said of the timing for GM to return as a listed company.
GM received $50 billion of government financing to restructure in a bankruptcy steered by the U.S. Treasury, which owns almost 61 percent of the automaker.
Liddell said GM's restructuring has given it a shot at success by cutting costs and debt as it emerged from bankruptcy in July last year.
The preconditions for success are extremely good -- although maybe not so obvious to people when they look from the outside, Liddell said.
He added: I think we have a reasonable chance of being profitable this year. Relative to where we were a few years ago, that's enormous progress.
GM has lost $88 billion since 2005. Liddell said the opportunity to be part of a turnaround at the automaker was part of the attraction as he weighed three other offers to leave Microsoft late last year.
People say, 'why would you leave this incredibly comfortable existence?' he said.
I had got to the stage at Microsoft where, after five years, I felt I had made all the difference I could and was reaching the point of diminishing returns.
Liddell, who took a month off after leaving Microsoft, said he had three other job offers with technology companies that he turned down to join GM.
I like to joke that this was the hardest job, this was the least amount of pay, this was the toughest situation I was looking at, he said. But other than that, it was an entirely rational decision.
If I can be part of a team that helps the turnaround at GM, that's something I can be proud of in 10 or 20 years, he said
'TOO EARLY TO SPECULATE' ON SUCCESSION
Liddell, 51, a New Zealand native, is being paid a salary of $750,000 with $5.45 million in restricted stock and salary stock grants at GM.
His salary exceeds the cap of $500,000 imposed on firms that have taken the U.S. government bailout but an exception was approved for his hiring by Kenneth Feinberg, the U.S. Treasury's special master on pay.
Liddell is considered a leading candidate to replace GM Chief Executive Ed Whitacre, although he was first recruited by Whitacre's predecessor, Fritz Henderson, in September 2009.
He declined to discuss GM's succession plans on Wednesday, saying that it was way too early to consider just seven weeks into his term at the automaker.
GM's financial operations were sharply criticized in its slide toward bankruptcy.
Steve Rattner, the former investment banker who headed the Obama administration's autos task force, said the automaker was saddled with perhaps the weakest finance operation U.S. officials had seen at a major company.
But Liddell said the GM financial management team was not as bad as characterized.
These situations are never as good or as bad as they look from the outside, he said, adding that he had replaced seven of the 11 managers who had reported to him at Microsoft over five years.
No one really noticed there because the cash flow was coming in every day, he said.
Liddell, who used to drive a Ferrari to commute to Microsoft's campus near Seattle, said he was working his way through a rotation of GM vehicles, starting with the Cadillac Escalade.
I want to drive everything. I don't want to drive just the top-of-the-line cars, he said. They're slowly but surely moving me through the whole fleet.
(Reporting by Keven Krolicki, editing by Matthew Lewis)