DETROIT – General Motors’ new chief executive is ready to take the company into bankruptcy to save the company.

In his first news conference since taking over GM on Monday, Fritz Henderson revealed Tuesday that he’s been given a clear mandate: Make GM successful by “whatever it takes.”

“If I didn’t want to be part of a bankruptcy, if we had to do that, I would have just said, ‘No, I don’t want to be part of it,”‘ Henderson said about accepting his new job.

Gone are ousted CEO Rick Wagoner’s strong protests against bankruptcy and the caveats about damaging the company’s brands and sales.

To meet the Obama administration’s demands for a more aggressive turnaround plan, Henderson said the automaker will need to take further measures to restructure the company – including possibly closing more plants than expected, likely offering additional buyouts to UAW members and reducing its dealer network faster.

“We need to reinvent General Motors and we need to do it in a very, very abbreviated time period … so that we’re not spending our time careening from crisis to crisis,” Henderson said.

He reiterated that GM, which is staying afloat with a $13.4 billion U.S. government loan, would prefer to restructure the company outside of court but said that a government-sponsored bankruptcy was more probable, especially with the Obama administration’s demands for a balance sheet with less debt.

“It might very well drive us into that as the strategy we need to employ,” he said.

Henderson ascended to the role of CEO following Wagoner’s resignation Sunday. Wagoner was asked to step down by the Obama administration as part of the auto task force’s plan to help the ailing company, which lost nearly $70 billion over the past two years.

Obama has given GM 60 days to come up with a more aggressive turnaround plan, calling on all stakeholders to give up more and promising to supply working capital to the company to keep it going through that period.

Obama cautioned Monday that bankruptcy may be required.

“We will get the job done. We will either do it out of court or we will do it in court,” Henderson said. “But we will get the job done in terms of recreating and reinventing General Motors as a competitive enterprise – one that wins in the marketplace.”

GM has a team working on the possibility of a quick bankruptcy. Henderson said the company could not contemplate the process without government financing and government’s protection in the marketplace. Obama has announced the government will back warranties on new vehicles being sold.

If it becomes clear that GM can’t accomplish the restructuring it needs within the next 60 days, Henderson indicated bankruptcy could come quicker than expected.

“If it’s just quite clear to us that it can’t be done, then we’ll move faster,” Henderson said. “If it’s going to get done out of court, we can get done in 60 days. Other than that, more time isn’t going to help the process.”

In addition to facing a 60-day deadline imposed by the president, GM also has $1 billion in notes slated to mature June 1, something the company has warned could result in default if a deal is not reached prior to the deadline.

As part of the $13.4 billion in government loans approved in December, GM was supposed to get bondholders and the UAW to agree to restructuring of the company’s debt by Tuesday – something it failed to do.

“There are a lot of constituencies that need to come to the table,” Henderson said.

Henderson said he has watched other bankruptcies and found them to be sloppy and value-destructive.

“The issues will be how do we actually work together to make one successful if we have to go through it,” he said. “That’s what we’re going to be spending all of our time” on.

(c) 2009, Detroit Free Press.

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AP-NY-03-31-09 1825EDT

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