More Heads Roll at GM

Brent Dewar

Brent Dewar

Don’t say he didn’t warn you: CEO Ed Whitacre openly telegraphed his guillotine approach, most recently in yesterday’s Webchat. Two days ago, Brent Dewar, Chevrolet brand manager, was pushed out (leaving April 1) after 31 years at GM. A “Henderson guy,” according to some, Dewar will be replaced by James Campbell, another lifer who ran the company’s fleet and commercial operations.

Michael Richards

Michael Richards

And it was revealed today that Michael Richards, Buick-GMC boss, has quit his job eight days after joining GM. He had formerly been at Ford for 27 years. Dennis Virag, a well-known automotive consultant, opined that Mr. Richards’ incredibly short tenure “really brings up the question of what in the world is going on.” A lot of people are asking a lot of questions.

Among them: Is it appropriate to fire your top talent for the sake of cultural change? Is there indeed any “top talent” at GM? Will the firings bring about change or chaos? How do these departures signify the new direction, if any, for GM?

Susan Docherty

Susan Docherty

What the firings do tell us is that Susan Docherty, Bob Lutz’s replacement, is now sole head of GM marketing. She is a relatively unknown quantity and not too hip or hands-on when it comes to advertising. For someone who has said, “I think our advertising is probably the best I’ve ever seen it, and I want to continue that momentum in the marketplace,” she has a lot to learn.

Another Detroit old-timer, Peter DeLorenzo, was quoted thusly:

The most crucial issue facing GM is the fact that a highly skeptical American consumer public is finding it hard to be impressed with GM’s excellent new vehicle lineup. And until that consideration needle is moved in a dramatically positive direction, the company will literally and figuratively be nowhere.

While GM has figured out how to build a few good cars, it hasn’t a clue how to compel a highly skeptical public to buy them. Whether Ed Whitacre does is a question we’ll all have to keep pondering.

Do you think Whitacre has a direction? Or is he just cleaning house?

—jgoods

3 Comments

  1. GM is not going to change by firing people and replacing them with more GM insiders. The management “culture” at GM is rotten to the core and what they desperately need is a blood transfusion. Not just some new blood, but whole executive teams booted and replaced from outside. GM has no problem wiping out jobs by the tens of thousands, but unfortunately it’s the jobs of people who know how to build the cars. The people who decide WHAT to produce– like Bob Lutz, GM’s number one liability– are the problem.

  2. The biggest, most telling piece of news here isn’t the Whitacre firings. It’s the fact that Richards quit after eight days. Twenty seven years at Ford, eight days at GM. Wow.

  3. I don’t believe anything that is done by anybody will make any difference. The “good news” is that the government will only lose $30B instead of the $44B it would lose and that GM will be paying back almost $7B before the end of the year.

    The truly sad part of this mess is that GM is finally making world class cars now and apparently the public is indifferent and skeptical. Sad.

    My optimistic forecast for GM is that once this horrible recession is over and people start earning some money, that given a choice between the green sardine cans that are being touted and a real car, they will choose the real car. The Cruze, Equinox, and Malibu should be humongous successes and should spur the interest that should be given to world class cars and the company that makes them.

    My pessimistic forecast is that the government continues to offer up “incentives” for the sardine cans and delays any real recovery that would come from a now skeptical public. Should the recession continue, only Subaru and Hyundai will do well.

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