Stem cell persistence into adulthood requires self-renewal from early developmental stages. In the developing mouse brain, only apical progenitors located at the ventricle are self-renewing, whereas basal progenitors gradually deplete. However, nothing is known about the mechanisms regulating the fundamental difference between these progenitors. Here we show that the conditional deletion of the small Rho-GTPase cdc42 at different stages of neurogenesis in mouse telencephalon results in an immediate increase in basal mitoses. Whereas cdc42-deficient progenitors have normal cell cycle length, orientation of cell division and basement membrane contact, the apical location of the Par complex and adherens junctions are gradually lost, leading to an increasing failure of apically directed interkinetic nuclear migration. These cells then undergo mitoses at basal positions and acquire the fate of basal progenitors. Thus, cdc42 has a crucial role at the apical pole of progenitors, thereby regulating the position of mitoses and cell fate.