GM Executives Keep on Rolling


“What’s new at GM?” CEO Dan Akerson asks in the image spot above. The answer, it turns out, is everything.

Not content to settle for slight progress when he’s confident that it could become robust progress, Akerson is continuing to move the pieces around on his executive chessboard.

In just the last few days, GM has named Mary Barra, its human-resources chief, as its new SVP of global product development, and moved the post’s previous occupant, Tom Stephens, to the new position of global chief technology officer; promoted Chris Perry, head of its Chevrolet division, to the post of U.S. CMO, replacing his boss, Joel Ewanick, who recently was promoted to global CMO; and replaced Chris Preuss as president of GM’s OnStar brand with Linda Marshall, who worked for Akerson when he ran Nextel Communications.

The moves sharpen at least four tendencies that Akerson has brought to GM since he replaced Ed Whitacre last year.[more]

The first is that Ewanick keeps getting more freedom to write his own ticket for marketing GM. Before he would join GM as its U.S. CMO last spring, Ewanick demanded carte blanche for reshaping the company’s brands in the U.S. market; he got it.

Now, after expansion of his portfolio to include the entire globe, Ewanick has been able to install Perry as his crucial U.S. right-hand man after bringing Perry to GM last year as chief of the Chevrolet division. Perry worked for Ewanick in marketing at Hyundai.

Second, Akerson — who came to GM from the Carlyle Group — is building a team who can spur the automaker’s innovation and product development. Under recently retired vice chairman Bob Lutz, the company drastically overhauled its product-development process and has produced a resulting string of big winners, including the Cadillac SRX, Buick LaCrosse and Regal, and Chevrolet Equinox and Camaro.

But Akerson has acknowledged that, thanks to the last couple of years of restructuring and the haze surrounding its new government ownership, GM’s product-development pace has fallen behind again. Barra has an engineering and manufacturing background and knows how to work well with people, Akerson said in announcing her appointment today.

Third, Akerson seems to be emphasizing a holistic view of GM’s markets and operations around the globe. The company didn’t have a global CTO or CMO before the most recent appointments. Over the years, the company has talked a lot about taking advantage of worldwide synergies, developing global vehicle platforms and even marketing programs. These moves could bring GM significant steps closer to doing more of that.

Fourth, in elevating Marshall from her position as head of global business strategy and development for OnStar, which she began last fall, Akerson appears to want someone running the telematics brand who has experience in the telecom business. OnStar is in a tough battle with Ford’s Sync system for primacy in the growing area of in-car connectivity, and Ford has had the upper hand because its system works with just about any smart phone, whereas OnStar is a safety and security system that is hard-wired into GM cars.

Akerson also has said that he wants to bring more of a high-tech thrust to GM in areas that consumers will recognize.

The caretaker era of GM CEOs is over, as Akerson makes his moves to become the new chess master in Detroit. “A New Day at GM,” indeed.


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