Since GM Chairman/CEO Ed Whitacre began firing holdover executives, starting with former CEO Fritz Henderson, TTAC has argued that VP for Marketing Susan Docherty is a prime example of a GM lifer who “owes her career to GM’s timid and inept culture.” Having already lost the Sales VP position to GM’s rising star Mark Reuss, “leaving Docherty time to focus on the marketing side and polish up her resumé,” we figured she was on her way out. And sure enough, several embarrassments later, the announcement came today. What we didn’t expect: that former Hyundai “Marketer of the year” Joel Ewanick would replace her.
Ewanick received widespread praise for his implementation of Hyundai’s “Assurance” program, although he did not (as has even been reported here at TTAC) come up with the insurance program. That honor goes to one Vince Beretta of Walkaway, who came up with the concept in November of 1998 and peddled it independently until Hyundai white-labeled the concept as Assurance. In an interview with TTAC, Beretta did give Ewanick credit for messaging the program “perfectly,” by highlighting its affinity with Hyundai’s value-oriented marketing, and directly addressing the insecurity caused by economic downturn. AdAge, Brandweek and Forbes must have agreed, having all named Ewanick Marketer of the Year (or equivalent) for 2009.
Ewanick left Hyundai in March for Nissan, and by all accounts he hit the ground running there. How GM was able to poach him away from his new employer after just over a month on the job is something of a mystery, but the hiring is clearly something The General’s top brass are excited about. North American operations boss Mark Reuss enthuses:
Joel is highly regarded in industry and marketing circles and his track record speaks for itself. We are very pleased to have his marketing acumen, creative leadership and energy at GM at this critical time.
And what of the now twice-replaced Ms Susan Docherty? Sadly, it seems that she is not necessarily on the way out. According to GM’s release, Docherty’s “new position at GM will be announced soon.”The release also notes that:
With extensive sales, service and marketing experience, Docherty has held positions of increasing responsibility in Canada, the U.S., Europe and Asia.
What it leaves out is that Docherty is fresh out of “positions of increasing responsibility.” In fact, it’s fair to say that, in line with the infamous Peter Principle, Docherty has been promoted to her “natural level of incompetence.” And Reuss’s kiss-off to his former equal reads more like a letter of recommendation than a sign that she’s wanted or needed at the RenCen:
Susan has been deeply involved in GM’s sales and marketing initiatives for many years. With her drive and focus, she has laid the groundwork for solid plans and rejuvenated our agency relationships, placing us in good stead for the future. We look forward to her contribution across the business moving forward.
We’re still looking forward to her departure from General Motors. Meanwhile, the arrival of Ewanick is possibly the best news GM has had in ages. Given GM’s recent marketing faux pas, and the government monkey on its back, GM needs someone with Ewanick’s proven record of success. After all, Beretta tells us that GM had a shot at Walkaway’s program, and turned it down, leaving the best auto marketing idea in years on the table for Ewanick and Hyundai. Perhaps with Ewanick at the marketing controls, GM will be willing to take chances on similarly innovative practices. One thing is for certain: marketing GM products has got to be one of the toughest tasks in the industry. Seeing a top dog in the field, at the top of his game taking on the challenge gives us something of a tiny thrill. GM’s turnaround just gained a little more credibility.