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GM Plucks CFO from Rival for Europe Post

A top management shakeup at the car company’s struggling Opel unit includes the hiring of Volkswagen’s U.S. finance chief.
Andrew SawersJuly 18, 2012

The next CFO of General Motors’s loss-making European business, Opel, will be Michael Lohscheller, a German native who for the past four years has headed finance at Volkswagen Group of America.

Lohscheller’s appointment is part of a management shakeup that comes a week after Karl-Friedrich Stracke, president of GM Europe and chief executive of Opel, “stepped down from his position to take on special assignments reporting to GM chairman and CEO Dan Akerson,” the company said in a statement. The move is widely seen in the industry as a sacking of Stracke.

Lohscheller, 43, is a 20-year auto-industry veteran who has also chalked up experience at Daimler and Mitsubishi Europe. He replaces Mark James, who has been Opel’s CFO since January 2010 and a GM executive since 1991. Opel said in a statement that James’s “professional future will be announced later.”

This week GM appointed restructuring specialist Thomas Sedran as Opel’s deputy chairman: in effect, its interim CEO. Sedran has worked with Opel for several years as a consultant, and joined the company’s board as operations director in April.

GM’s European operations have racked up big losses in recent years, raising fears over the business unit’s very survival. In 2011 it suffered a loss before interest and tax of $747 million (€610 million), an improvement on the $1.953 billion (€1.59 billion) loss in 2010. Last year also brought a goodwill-impairment charge of more than $1 billion at the European unit, though European sales of $26.8 billion (€21.8 billion) were up from $24.1 billion (€19.6 billion) in 2010.

First-quarter losses this year hit $256 million (€210 million), with a further goodwill-impairment charge of $590 million (€480 million) on top of that. Opel’s activities include those of the separately branded Vauxhall business in the United Kingdom.

Under German law, the appointment of Lohscheller to the management board (or Vorstand) requires the approval of Opel’s supervisory board (Aufsichtsrat), even though the company is wholly owned by GM.

The exact range of Lohscheller’s responsibilities will be determined then, a spokesman told CFO European Briefing. At Volkswagen Group of America, Lohscheller was in charge of finance, IT, purchasing, and logistics. Opel said in its statement that he led “a successful turnaround driving significant growth and profit improvement” at VW.

Andrew Sawers is editor of CFO European Briefing, a CFO online publication.