* Hire is latest in series of recent GM executive changes
* Liddell's departure from Microsoft previously announced (Adds details, background on Liddell, byline)
DETROIT, Dec 21 - General Motors Co has hired Chris Liddell, the chief financial officer of Microsoft Corp, as its new finance chief, filling a key position with the automaker's highest-profile hire since its July bankruptcy.
The hire brings another well known auto industry outsider to GM's shifting senior executive team at a time when the automaker has been struggling to close deals to sell key assets and regain sales momentum in the U.S. market.
GM has been operating since July with a new board vetted by the Obama administration and, since the start of December, under a new chief executive in Ed Whitacre, who had spent a career at telecommunications provider AT&T.
Liddell, 51, will start at GM in January, the automaker said on Monday. He previously announced he would be leaving Microsoft at the end of December, indicating he was looking for a bigger job at another company.
At Microsoft, Liddell, a New Zealand native, had been responsible for the software giant's corporate strategy, treasury, accounting and investor relations. He joined Microsoft in 2005 from International Paper Co, where he was also CFO.
GM has faced sharp criticism for its financial management in recent years. Former Chief Executive Fritz Henderson, who had been CFO, was dismissed by the automaker's board earlier this month.
His successor as CFO, Ray Young, was reassigned to GM's international operations in Shanghai earlier this month.
NEW GM ACCOUNTING KEY
Whitacre had cautioned that federal pay restrictions were complicating GM's search for outside hires for key executive positions, but said last week that the company had found a replacement for Young.
One of the first big challenges for Liddell will be to oversee the process of preparing post-bankruptcy accounting statements for GM that revalue its assets and liabilities.
Completing that "fresh start" accounting in the coming months is a prerequisite for an initial public offering of GM shares.
GM has lost $88 billion since 2005, excluding results for this year that included its bankruptcy.
Steve Rattner, the former investment banker who oversaw GM's restructuring as head of the White House-appointed autos task force, said in October that he and other U.S. officials were surprised by the "stunningly poor management" at GM, especially in its finance operations.
Last January GM settled a five-year probe of its accounting practices Securities and Exchange Commission related to errors in its treatment of pensions, derivatives and precious metals.
Since emerging from bankruptcy in July, the automaker has also had a harder-than-expected time disposing of the smaller and money-losing brands it no longer wants, including Saturn, Saab and Hummer.
A deal to sell Saturn to Penske Automotive Group collapsed in September.
Last week GM said it had been unable to find a buyer for Sweden-based Saab and would shut it down, but indicated this week that it could consider additional offers for the 60-year-old auto brand.