Edward Whitacre, the former CEO of AT&T and General Motors who lives in San Antonio, is being discussed as President Donald Trump’s likely nominee to replace Roberta Jacobson as U.S. Ambassador to Mexico.
A source close to the NAFTA talks in Mexico City told the Rivard Report that buzz is surrounding Whitacre and a couple other names. A Texas-based associate said he was interviewed by federal officials conducting a background check on Whitacre months ago. Other sources confirmed that Whitacre was being vetted last year, but interview subjects – local leaders and colleagues – were not told what for.
Mexican newspaper Reforma first reported that Whitacre, 76, is Trump’s expected choice.
“Ed Whitacre will make an excellent ambassador to Mexico,” said Ramiro Cavazos, president and CEO of the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “He believes in free trade, is a friend of the Latino business community and won’t pull any punches when it comes to doing the right thing in advancing U.S.-Mexico relations.
“While not a career diplomat, he will bring his own unique lifetime of private sector experience to the job.”
Jacobson announced Thursday she was stepping down from her post, telling her staff in a memo that the decision to leave was “difficult,” according to The New York Times, but did not specifically say why she is leaving. Her resignation is effective May 5.
Whitacre was born in Ennis, Texas, and graduated from Texas Tech University, whose engineering school is named for him. Having started his career with Southwestern Bell Telephone Company as a facility engineer, he rose to become CEO of AT&T. After retiring from AT&T in 2007, he was asked by government officials to take the helm of GM as it emerged from bankruptcy in 2009.
“Ed Whitacre is a business icon in San Antonio and has been for many, many years,” said Richard Perez, president and CEO of San Antonio Chamber of Commerce. “Anyone that’s able to bring GM out of bankruptcy has the skills to be a great ambassador to Mexico.”
Whitacre stepped down as CEO of GM in September 2010 and as chairman of the board in December 2010.
“[If appointed] this definitely cannot hurt [San Antonio’s] position in the world and our relationship with Mexico,” Perez said during a phone interview. Perez is also in Mexico City attending NAFTA discussions.
Whitacre served on Exxon Mobil’s board of directors during Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s tenure as the corporation’s CEO, joining the board in May 2009.
If nominated by Trump, and if Whitacre accepts, his appointment would have to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
Father David Garcia, San Antonio’s Archdiocesan director of the Old Spanish Missions, has known Whitacre for about 20 years, he told the Rivard Report. Whitacre was a donor to San Fernando Cathedral restoration project and efforts to restore the four Spanish-colonial Missions in the Southside. Fr. Garcia led both.
“He’s certainly contributed a lot to the community,” Garcia said, adding that while he’s not familiar with the day-to-day demands of the ambassador position, “I’m presuming that Ed has so many talents that he could probably do it very well.”
Wendy Lane Cook contributed to this article.