By on December 14, 2009

Are you there God?

Sure, GM Sales and Marketing maven Susan Docherty is better at the webchat format than CEO Ed Whitacre (not to mention Mark “HOT DESIGN” Reuss). Docherty’s emoticon-free performance certainly beat Whitacre’s for sheer volume, but even when she’s talking a lot, Docherty isn’t really saying much of anything. Since GM is generally operating under radio though, today’s webchat is about all we have to go on for a taste of life in the RenCen as a turbulent year sweeps to an equally turbulent close. So let’s dig in, shall we?

The first indication of life under Ed Whitacre came when Docherty was asked:

The question I have is common for all US businesses, how are you at GM dealing with the not invented here mentality. For example, if someone can build a battery that is better than what you have why is it so impossible to get to the right people? It stifles innovation. The fact is that outside of safety and a few gadgets we are all still driving the same car we drove thirty years ago

To which Docherty replied:

in the new GM we are encouraging our team members to make sure their voice is heard. Ed Whitacre has been very clear that our leadership team is ready to listen to all ideas that can make our cars better and our customers satisfied. There is no shortage of good ideas and as leaders we need to hear them!

Listening? From the company that bases its marketing decisions on the assumption that the only thing wrong with its vehicles is the fact that consumers are too dumb to understand how good they are? That certainly makes for a change… at least it would it were clear that “listening” wasn’t just another catchphrase on “Whitacre-apporved” list. Sadly, that seems to be exactly the case. Docherty explains:

I think our recent announcements are a great example of placing emphasis on younger talent – these moves create lots of new opportunities for our GM Team members and more to come …… Our Leaders have established a new process for establishing objectives to ensure that our team members are empowered to make changes, take on more responsiblity and be held accountable for results – this is what our new “CAP” – Committment, Accountability, Partnership is all about.

Quick question: does it seem to anyone else that this new “CAP” phenomenon could be substituted with the 1988 catchphrase “Teamwork and Technology?” And though “Accountability” is clearly supposed to rank high in this “new” order, Docherty made it clear that GM’s strategy largely boils down to lots of listening. From the death of the Vui-ick, to picking colors for the new Buick Regal, to soliciting specific marketing suggestions, Docherty could not stop talking about how GM management is essentially handing over decision-making to customers, lower-ranking employees, and basically everyone but the folks who are supposed to be “in charge” and “accountable.” Nothing seems to capture this re-framing of decision-making within the company than the following exchange about dealers, kicked off with this question/blame shift from Claude Chisholm:

In my opinion, your dealer network bears more responsibility for GM’s decline over the last 30 years than your product line. Excellent dealers can build a loyal base of repeat customers who will come back, even if the product may be a bit less than topnotch. While on the other hand, bad dealers can sour people on even the best products. Somehow you have to impress upon your dealers that consumer satisfaction is more important than seeing customers as more than mere money machines of whom they can take advantage of.

To which Docherty replied:

Claude, thanks for being so candid. Dealers are our partners and the face to the consumer and you are right that if a consumer has a bad experience it reflects poorly on our brands and our company. We have some great dealers and we also have some NOT SO GREAT dealers. It is the responsibility of my team to address the not so good dealers and either help improve their performance or the market will decide for them. Consumers perceptions are exceptionally important – we are taking this seriously and need to improve in this area.

Nobody’s going to deny that there are GM dealers who reflect poorly on the company, but GM also just had the perfect opportunity to dump every last one of these in its bankruptcy. If the problem persists, well, GM has only itself to blame. Except, as a “different” kind of GM leader, Docherty doesn’t play that game. But how is Docherty different than her predecessors Mark LaNeve and Bob Lutz?

My leadership style is transparant, inclusive and with a bias towards listening and moving fast. In my new role I plan to be spending even more time with customers and dealers because this is where I can make the biggest impact, help strenghten our brands, and earn consideration in the hearts and minds of consumers. Also want to spend time with leaders outside of our industry – there’s so much to learn!

Remember, the question was “how is your leadership style different than LaNeve and Lutz?” By blithely describing her abilities as a listener, Docherty indicates that the “perception gap” rhetoric from her predecessors will be a thing of the past. That sounds like a good thing. The mania for consumer insight is a dangerous tonic though, as it can be just as distracting as the more recent product-first approach (as GM’s Zarella-era product proved). And if Docherty’s clueless response to the Volt video making the rounds on the autoblogosphere is anything to go off of, her lack of confidence and control is as big a danger as Lutz and LaNeve’s imperiousness. Unless it isn’t. Let me check with some consumers.

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33 Comments on “Susan Docherty Livechat: Dealers, Catchphrases and Leadership, Oh My!...”


  • avatar
    porschespeed

    About as pointless as any other post-game interview with the losing team.
    Rams football anyone?

    Trot out the well-worn corp-speak and be enthusiastic that although nothing substantive has changed, somehow the results will be new and different.

  • avatar
    mach1

    Susan Docherty is a classic product of the GM system. She has more than a dozen “punches in her ticket” but never stayed in any one job long enough to see how her decisions turned out. She is a mile wide and an inch deep. Dilbert called people like her “Bungee Bosses” – they drop in, stir things up, and then split before their actions have a chance to come home. The next person in the chair gets all the blame if things go badly while she can claim credit if it works out at least in the short term.   She is very good at management speak but most of what she says doesn’t really say much.
     
    The GM faithful better hope I have misread her- but after 40 years in the biz, I’ve seen a lot of people like her.

    • 0 avatar
      Pig_Iron

      Ker-chunk. Another hole punched. Then, one day, no train, no station, no conductor, no punch.

      But, when you get that high. there’s always a big refund when the ride stops. For coach class, they’re just likey to get out intact.

  • avatar
    superbadd75

    Why does she look so tiny next to that Enclave? It’s a very strange looking photo.

  • avatar
    mach1

    I would guess a really bad “photoshop” job.

  • avatar

    Color me not impressed.  The message I’m getting here is that we’re listening to everybody and holding the underlings accountable for our failures.  That’s a nice way to phrase the ongoing problem with GM corporate culture.
     
    How about this:  you make a tangible difference in your job as a big-time boss at GM or you resign in disgrace?  Don’t spend so much time listening and make some decisions that you’re allegedly qualified for.  If they turn out good, then maybe you’re a keeper at the “New GM” ™.  Otherwise, you’re dead weight and need to be thrown overboard.
     
    How’s that sound?  I’ll take my response off the phone…

  • avatar
    Ingvar

    “ready to listen” is not the exact same thing as actually listening or taking it in. When she says the leadership “are ready to listen” it doesn have to mean anything more than that their hearing-aids have been swithched on. It’s like those labels on your tv that says “HD-Ready”. GM are ready to listen. When they are going to listen is a whole another matter….

  • avatar
    panzerfaust

    Sounds like Susan ‘excels’ at the same thing her predecessors excelled at; internal politics.

    ‘Our Leaders have established a new process for establishing objectives to ensure that our team members are empowered to make changes, take on more responsiblity and be held accountable for results – this is what our new “CAP” – Committment, Accountability, Partnership is all about.”

    All this is corporate double-speak that deflects the responsiblity for leadership leaving it up to the subordinates to do for themselves what the leaders are too concerned with CYA-ing to do.  Leaders are supposed to hold team members responsible, and choose people who can handle responsibility and give as much to them as they are able. 
    The first thing that came to mind when I heard the acronym “CAP” was ‘cliche’s and propoganda.’   I wonder how many of the little people in GM have added an ‘R’ to the C-AP?

  • avatar
    beken

    The part about  “Our Leaders have established a new process for establishing objectives to ensure…. ”  scares me.   You mean GM’s leaders still have no objectives?

  • avatar
    Steven02

    I find some of the questions from the interview loaded, like…
    If someone can build a better battery, why can’t you find the right people?
    Apparently, you must be the best at everything to run a car company.
    I am glad GM is trying to change the corporate culture to be more open.  I am glad to hear that perception is a big deal now.  I am not sure the relevance to a 20 year old video really has, since those people are no longer there, but it does make it easier to kick them I guess.
     
    Oh, and GM did take the opportunity to get rid of some bad dealers during bankruptcy.  If GM isn’t able to keep them all out, then we have no one to blame but the US gov’t who is still trying to keep the dealers alive.  Now, I realize that GM wouldn’t be around without the US gov’t support, but it has been much more difficult to get rid of the dealers.  It isn’t only a GM choice right now.
     
    FWIW, you will never find press conferences, web chats, or press releases that really say much.  Toyota has had several since they have had quality and safety issue.  They say they are changing, but give no details.  I don’t expect anything different here.
     
    And I wouldn’t give her too much flack about the video.  It wasn’t approved on her desk and is a local bit at an auto show, which are usually very bad.  But, I bet she is doing something about it.  You probably won’t hear anything either, because it would serve no purpose to announce to everyone that X employee was disciplined or fired from a bad marketing stunt.
     

  • avatar
    ajla

    Well, if GM is listening:
     

    -Kill the 3.0L V6 right now.
    -Kill the 3500 V6.
    -Offer some version of the 3.6L V6 in the Impala and Lucerne.
    -Make the 2.4L-6A combo standard for the Malibu.
    -Please offer the 2.8L V6 turbo from the SRX in the new Regal.

  • avatar
    mtymsi

    I still can’t figure out what in her GM background qualified her for her current position. I’m really quite surprised Whitacre signed off on it. One can only hope she’s a short term stopgap until they quickly find someone who’s qualified. This position needs to be filled by a successful outsider without question.

  • avatar

    what a complete bag of bullshit.

  • avatar
    texlovera

    Geez, I know this was a webchat, but some of the language is just….puzzling?

    “Our Leaders” – capitalized?  Deified? 

    ” “CAP” – Committment, Accountability, Partnership…”

    Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité?  Sounds like the French Revolution, complete with the guillotine.

    “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”

  • avatar
    JSF22

    I don’t know her, but everyone I know who does says she’s an idiot and a suck-up. Her replies sound like what we always say to our employees when we don’t want to (or can’t) answer a question.
     
    I know I would have been more impressed had she known how to spell “transparent.”

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    All this from the same person that was involved with greenlighting the G3 at Pontiac, that killed Pontiac with stupid badge engineered crap with alphanumeric names, reduced Buick down to but two sedans, one a fat overweight whale that looks justs like a Lexus with a tiny trunk and squinty windows and an underpowered 3.0 liter V6. Color me very unimpressed. Listening? Well listen to this GM: You have succeeded in killing off your only real sporty division, Pontiac, investing untold millions in a walking deadman brand, Saturn, keeping a corporate twin truck division, GMC, not updating your flagship Chevy sedan, Impala, installing under displacement engines in your new car lines, copying dull plain bland Asian designs in your newest offerings, utterally refusing to invest in and make some full sized RWD offerings, coming to market with only part of any given model lineup such as the new Regal with a base mid level 4 cylinder only offering, the under performing lacklustre mileage 3.0 liter SIDI V6, your antique 4 speed automatic equipped flagship FWD models over at Cadillac and Buick in the form of DTS and Lucerne, and lets not forget your poor quality control and on going never ending problems such as intermediate steering shaft failures and intake gasket leaks. So under your guidance I suppose we can expect badge engineered Chevys as Buicks down the road with alphanumeric names like B3, B5, B6 and B8 with a sport flair thrown in for good measure. If it wasn’t for China Buick would be in the grave along with all the others.
     

    • 0 avatar
      Steven02

      While I understand you aren’t happy that Pontiac was killed, lets talk about the timeline.
      The Pontiac Wave was on sale in Canada before Susan took the job.
      The decision to reduce Pontiac was made by GM’s board right as she took the job.  When bankruptcy was the way to guy, why would it have made sense to keep the brand?  It didn’t make money.  All of the vehicles were rebadges of something available in the US, except the G8, which didn’t sell very well, and the Solstice, why was losing money and had poor sales as well.
       
      I also love how people say, are you listening GM, I am telling you what to do.  I am an internet genius.  I can point out problems, make statements about what not to do, even suggest more things not to do, but I don’t understand business or how to make money.
       
      If you did understand business, you would understand the decision to keep GMC and Buick and do away with Pontiac.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      @steven02:

      GM is claiming that they want to hear our opinions and ideas. They have been saying “Tell us what you think!” ever since they went C11. So I don’t see how writing what we would like to see different from GM is way out of line. I think GM should be happy that some of us haven’t just written them off completely,  and actually care what they decide to do in the future.

      Expecting those loyal to Pontiac, Saturn, HUMMER, and Saab to just say “Our favorite brands are gone forever because they didn’t make money. I guess I’ll go buy a Chevy now” isn’t going to happen unless they are a GM employee/retiree.  GM is going to have to do something beyond talking down to us if they hope to retain us as customers.

      Also, considering that GM had to declare bankruptcy alongside ChryslerCo, I question how much the carry-over GM managers “understand the business”  or “know how to make money” in the first place.

    • 0 avatar
      AccAzda

      If GM was intelligent…

      Theyd stop selling the SS versions.. and the V series stuff from Caddy.

      Now with Pontiac gone.. its as if they never existed.
      How easy would it be to add a SS badge to the same Pontiac stuff?

    • 0 avatar
      Steven02

      @ajla
      I was commenting on him blaming Susan for things that happened before she got there.  He is clearly wrong about everything he blames her for.  Just pointing that out.
      He take a shot at the LaCrosse’s flaws, like no other vehicle has flaws.  And, if those are the only flaws in the vehicle, I don’t think it is a bad thing.
      He doesn’t like the killing of Pontiac which was losing money and the survival of Buick and GMC, which make money.  Doesn’t take genius to figure out why that happened.
      The Impala, for all the flack it receives, is actually a pretty good car.  Not an enthusiast’s car.    It has had some updates as well.
      GM did invest in a full size RWD sedan.  It didn’t sell well.
      Under displacement engines, might need to include more information here.  CAFE is coming, and I don’t think GM has terrible engines sizes on all cars.  And, there are optional engines available too.
      The Lucerne is going away.  I believe the DTS is as well.  No one is expecting a B3, B5 B6 etc from Buick.  And, FTW, that happened before Susan got there as well.  I know he didn’t say it was her fault, but just to keep the record straight.
      I would expect to see rebadged Opels become Buicks.  There will likely be some platform sharing between Buick and Chevy, but that is to be expected.
      He does have some good points about the SIDI 3.0L V6 not getting good EPA ratings.  GM has acknowledged that it needs to get better at quality.
       
      But, the most important thing you pointed out was that GM has been saying “Tell us what you think” since bankruptcy.  You are correct.  But this isn’t telling GM.  This is telling TTAC.  If you want to tell GM.  Go here.
      http://www.gmreinvention.com/index.php/tell-fritz/
      This is not the place to ask GM if it is listening.  GM does not have the time or man power to go to every car site on the internet to find out what customers are saying.  So, I stick by what I said and about him being and internet genius asking if GM is listening.  GM is listening… just not here.
       
       

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      @Steven02:
       
      Assuming you’re thinking of the G8 when you wrote that GM already invested in a failed RWD sedan, I would say that there is a big difference between the sporty proposition of the G8 and the luxury positioning of a RWD flagship for Buick or Cadillac.  I don’t see how GM’s high-end brands are going to be able to truly fight the big brands out of Germany and Japan without using RWD or longitudinal AWD.  Notice how well Acura is doing right now…
       
      I’ve seen lots of complaints about the 3.0L SIDI on “Tell Fritz”, Fastlane chats, and from the general automotive press- so hopefully GM gets going soon on improving that situation.

      I’m personally hoping for a turbo V6 offering in the Regal at some point. If Ford can get the mega-sized, AWD, 350+hp, Ecoboost V6 vehicles to work with CAFE standards, then I’ll be disappointed if GM can’t even manage something in the area of 300hp on the smaller Regal without crying “Sorry, CAFE”.
       
      I also understand that TTAC is probably not the best place to realistically give GM our opinion on things. However, with this being an auto website (and as long a Ed doesn’t object), throwing out some GM improvement ideas just to see the response from other commentators doesn’t do any harm.
       

    • 0 avatar
      Steven02

      @ajla
      When I read ponchoman’s post, I thought he RWD comment was directed at the G8.  Cadillac has some RWD sedans, but the STS isn’t going to cut it as a flagship.  I think that the Chinese Buick Park Avenue would be a nice addition to either lineup.  While I do think it is important to have RWD, especially in the luxury market, I don’t think it is an absolute requirement.  I think you have to make cars that look appealing, lots of gadgets, and that perform.  I think Acura had this in the past TL (great looking vehicle IMHO), which I would see large numbers on the road.  The new Acura redesigns look terrible.  I expect sales to follow that trend as well.
      I think the 3.0L engine is not doing at all what was expected.  I have no idea why it seems to be as bad as it is.  Although, I am just going off of word of mouth.  The 3.6L has more HP/TQ and the same or better mileage.  It is in the same family of engines, so I have no idea what is wrong with it, but something definitely is.  My guess, GM is working on it.  If they decide to do away with that version of it, it won’t be in the middle of a model year.  If they fix the problem, I think that would be in the best interest of everyone.  I thought one of the best ideas behind DI would be to use smaller displacement to get better MPG but maintain the same power.  For some reason, with this version, it isn’t happening.
       
      I have heard rumors about different engines that will be available in the new regal.  From a turbo 6, to the 3.6L SIDI that is in the LaCrosse, Lambdas, and CTS.  While it won’t be the first year, they are very likely to make a Grand Sport, and possibly a Grand National version of the Regal.  Grand Sport much more likely than a GN.  With the 3.6L engine, my guess is that it would meet CAFE standards.
       
      I also agree, this is an automotive site.  Throw out your opinions.  I just can’t stand the ones that say… Are you listening GM?  I mean really.  To you expect Ed, to look at your post and say, yes, we are listening, because we monitor every automotive board there is on the web.  That is what CEO/Chairman have the time to do all day.  We monitor internet boards to hear people whine about how Pontiac is no longer there, we need more RWD, Susan should get fired for things she didn’t have parts in, Fritz should be fired, (and now that he is fired) firing Fritz seems impulsive and you are managing by fear, etc etc etc.  If you really want GM to listen, go to their site, post information, and don’t make it sound like a rant from a jilted Pontiac lover.  I think that was the point I was really trying to make.
       
       

  • avatar

    Evel Knievel called.  He wants his suit back.

    On the other hand, maybe it’s appropriate given what she’s about to attempt…

  • avatar
    Daanii2

    Judging people like Docherty by comments made in a Webcast seems unfair. Some people are good at things like that, but bad at things that matter. And vice versa.

    People like Docherty should instead be judged on what they have accomplished. Not by what they say.

    Otherwise, you will get someone like Barack Obama. He won the presidency based on a two-year record as a US Senator in which he accomplished nothing of note. He won a Nobel Prize based on a two-week record in which he accomplished nothing of note.

    Soon, Obama will have been in office for a year. And what will he have accomplished? Nothing of note.

    GM needs better. The company was dead, and brought back to life by a massive infusion of government money. We need people who can give us results. Fast.

    Nothing in Docherty’s record says she can do that. Time to find someone who can.

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    Slept her way up the first several rungs of the ladder.  The rest has been upward momentum in a dying organization.  I have no doubt.

    I wouldn’t buy a car from this wench to save my life….

    • 0 avatar
      Daanii2

      “Slept her way up the first several rungs of the ladder.” 

      Where do you get that from? Love her or hate her, there’s no evidence that she slept her way anywhere.

  • avatar
    mikey

    I too,was upset when GM killed Pontiac. I’ve been a Pontiac man since my dad brought home a 1960 Strato Chief. Personally,if something had to go I would have rather it had been Buick. But with Buick having a bigger foot print, world wide,Pontiac got the axe.

    • 0 avatar
      educatordan

      My father still mourns Oldsmobile, I think his favorite sedan that he ever owned was his 1987 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme Brougham (307V8, 4brl) with his 1992 Pontiac Bonneville being a close second.  Both times I thought Buick was more deserving of death.  The great irony is if they had killed Buick instead of Oldsmobile it would proably be Oldsmobile selling like hotcakes in China and Pontiac still would have gotten taken out in the pasture and shot.  But that’s just MHO. 

    • 0 avatar
      AccAzda

      But logically…
      Pontiac had fallen so far from grace.. that virtually anything with the arrowhead symbol was sold..

      An Aveo
      A Cobalier
      A Vue
      A Sky…

      Arent Pontiacs.

      And it doesnt help when GM also has a SS version of various Chevy vehicles..
      NTM the whole V series from Caddy.

      Something has to give.

      Now we have Buick.. trying to be what Saturn was..

  • avatar
    nevets248

    Hopefully her day to be “Fritzed” will come very soon.

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