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Frederick Fritz Henderson ( 1958 - )  Category ( Businessmen_Women ) [suggest a correction]

Frederick A. "Fritz" Henderson once imparted this bit of wisdom to a group of business students at the University of Michigan: "Get challenged, because that's where you learn. Just like in sports, you become much better when you play tougher competition."

In March of 2009, Henderson (a former pitcher for the Michigan Wolverines' baseball team) took on one of the stiffest challenges in American corporate history, stepping in as interim president of General Motors after Rick Wagoner resigned.

Wagner's departure was a bit unusual. He was, in effect, fired by the president -- not of his company, but of the nation. Seeing a former American icon in disarray, President Barack Obama strongly suggested that Wagoner step down. Henderson, a company insider, then slid into the breach for most of 2009.

In baseball terms, Henderson was coming into the game with the bases loaded and nobody out.

"Having worked closely with Fritz for many years," Wagoner said, "I know that he is the ideal person to lead the company through the completion of our restructuring."

Henderson, meanwhile, told the Financial times: "I have never had a dull day at GM."

As it turned out, Henderson stuck around long enough to see GM out of bankruptcy, then stepped down on Dec. 1, 2009, to be replaced by board chairman Edward Whitacre, Jr.

Henderson was born in Detroit on Nov. 29, 1958, grew up in Lake Orion, MI, and received an advanced degree from Harvard Business School after finishing at the University of Michigan. He also posted the highest score in Michigan on the annual CPA exam.

In 1984, he joined GM as a senior analyst. By 1992, he was a GMAC vice president. Four years later, he was named president and general manager of Delphi Saginaw, a GM subsidiary.

At that point, Henderson's international odyssey began. In 1997, he was named head of GM operations in South America, giving him authority over Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay. That led to later international assignments, and by 2008, Henderson told the New York Times, he had made business trips to at least 45 countries.

Wrote Time Magazine after Henderson replaced Wagoner: "Henderson's own history will be both an asset and a liability in his new post. A company lifer, he has presided over GM's growth in regions around the world, earning accolades as a talented, tough and steady leader. But as a consummate insider who formerly served as President and COO, he must also shake the public perception that feckless leadership has played a large part in GM's slide toward insolvency. Henderson is known for keeping his cool in tough spots, but there are few hotter seats in the business world than the one he's just landed in."

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