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About-Face for Chris Liddell, Now a CFO Again After All

The former finance chief at Microsoft and GM, who'd said he was done with being a CFO, takes the finance-chief job at William Morris.
David McCannAugust 1, 2014
About-Face for Chris Liddell, Now a CFO Again After All

Eternal vows have a way of eroding over long periods of time — or less. Just over a year ago, Chris Liddell, the former finance chief of Microsoft and General Motors, told CFO it was “very unlikely” that he’d be a CFO again.

Chris Liddell, in action at Microsoft.

Chris Liddell, in action at Microsoft.

“Been there, done that,” he said at the time. “I’m more interested in variety and new challenges than going back and doing the same thing again.” Yet in his new job, announced on Wednesday, he will be a CFO. At the same time, it likely will qualify as a new challenge.

Liddell will be heading up finance for WME / IMG. The company was formed this year when William Morris Endeavor, the iconic entertainment and literary talent agency, acquired International Management Group, which largely represents athletes and provides marketing and other services to the fashion industry. One could hardly imagine a more pronounced shift for a finance chief with long experience in the software and manufacturing spaces.

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The news offers an interesting twist: Liddell is replacing Peter Klein, who succeeded Liddell as Microsoft CFO after the latter moved to General Motors in December 2009.

Klein had been on the job at WME for just six months when he resigned in early July. The company said Klein left for personal reasons, but insiders reportedly said WME is deeply in debt following the IMG deal and that Klein’s departure was related to aggressive cost-cutting targets. According to bank documents, the company targeted $14 million of cuts in the first six months after the deal and $50 million in the following three months, the New York Post reported.

It will be interesting to see how well Liddell adjusts to a cost-cutting environment. In a 2011 interview with CFO when he was leading finance at GM, he said that before his arrival the auto-maker had been “producing less-than-world-class vehicles because [it] had a cost-cutting mentality.” The more the company “de-contented” its vehicles, “the more people didn’t want to buy them,” he said.

Before Liddell came to Microsoft in 2005, he had been CFO of International Paper. That followed finance-chief and CEO roles at one of New Zealand’s largest companies, forest products supplier Carter Holt Harvey.

He brings some sports management experience to his new position, which may help in his dealings with IMG. His résumé includes senior managerial roles at the New Zealand Rugby Union and the New Zealand Sports Foundation.

Liddell’s diverse career also has included serving as executive director of transition planning for the Mitt Romney Presidential campaign and director and treasurer of the Romney for President fundraising effort. He also served on the SEC’s Advisory Committee on Improvements to Financial Reporting.

Photo: techedlive, CC BY-ND 2.0. Image was unaltered from the original.

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