By on June 5, 2010

The executive shake-ups show no signs of stopping at GM, as Ed Whitacre ended the week with yet another re-shuffle. And this time Whitacre himself is the big winner. Automotive News [sub] reports that Whitacre has assumed control of GM’s global product planning, leaving former planning boss Tom Stephens with the more prosaic responsibility of overseeing new product development. Whitacre will be assisted by new VP for product planning Steve Carlisle, who, unlike Whitacre, actually has some experience in product planning. Carlisle replaces Jon Lauckner, who will head up GM’s new venture capital unit. But the big news here is that a man who only just learned the term “segment” about five and a half months ago, is now in charge of GM’s global product planning. Quick learner or egomaniac?

An interesting perspective into the planning and development reshuffle is revealed in a the internal announcement obtained by AN [sub].

Stephens said GM is also seeking to simplify its product-development process. So GM is reducing the number of reviews each vehicle gets by GM’s Global Product Development Council, which includes Stephens, his direct reports and top executives from the global region that will get the vehicle.

That committee will now only review each product four times during its development. That’s “about a third” fewer times than before, spokeswoman McBride said. The intention is to hold lower-tier executives accountable for decision-making, she said.

Devolving development decisions down the food chain is probably a good idea, especially when the upper tiers of management are being taken over by a mad Texan with no industry experience. And a look at some of the changes in engineering and vehicle development staff point to The General’s future direction.

GM’s former mid- and full-size sedan engineering boss Jim Federico has been taken off sedans, and will now serve as group vehicle line executive and chief engineer for global compact, small, mini and electric vehicles. Federico had led the international engineering team that developed the Epsilon II architecture out of Opel, and his reassignment seems to hint at a new emphasis on compact vehicles at GM.

Randy Schwarz will take over as chief engineer and group VLE for mid- and full-size cars, as well as RWD cars. Jim Dolot and Mark Moussa will work under him as chief engineer and VLE for mid- and full-size cars, while Bill Shaw will take over as global VLE for performance and RWD vehicles.

Jeff Luke will become group VLE and chief engineer for global trucks, vans and crossovers, while Jully Burau will become global chief engineer for full-sized trucks.

AN [sub] summarizes some of the other engineering changes:

• John Calabrese, to executive director of body, exterior, interior, safety and HVAC. Changes under him include:

1. Jim Hentschel, to executive director of body, exterior and dimensional engineering;

2. Jeff Boyer, to executive director of interior and safety;

3. Ray Bierzynski, to executive director of HVAC / powertrain cooling.

• Micky Bly adds responsibility for infotainment and OnStar engineering to his role as executive director for electrical systems, hybrids, electric vehicles and batteries. Changes under him are:

1. Tim Nixon, to executive director of infotainment and OnStar engineering; and

2. Kristen Siemen, to executive director for electrical systems.

• Ken Kelzer adds responsibility for induction controls and exhaust and the Canadian engineering center to his role as executive director of chassis.

And apparently the shake-ups will continue. GM’s internal announcement of these changes promises that “other organizational changes” would be announced in the future.

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19 Comments on “Ed “Not A Car Guy” Whitacre Takes Control Of GM Global Product Planning...”

  • avatar

    Well as they teach us in our administrative classes, you have to be smart enough to know what you don’t know. Either Ed is confident that he’s surrounded by the right people, he knows how to educate himself about what he doesn’t know, or he’s an egomaniacal idiot who thinks he can do it all by himself.

    Only time will tell. The longer I live the more I believe in Socrates’ old quote: “The wisest man is the one who knows he doesn’t know anything.” Or as I take it; “Knows what he doesn’t know.”

  • avatar

    It’s good to be King!

  • avatar

    Whitacre likes to rearrange the deck chairs. However, you can’t do this forever because the ship will eventually sink.

    • 0 avatar

      This is precisely what I was thinking.

      How many decades more can they keep up the ‘look, we’re committed to making big changes, me and Bob exchanged offices last week!’ parade?

      What I question of myself and everyone else, is whether you will be able to like a good GM car if they ever make one? Will the scar tissue be too deep, or will you be able forgive?

      I am hesitant to say yes.

    • 0 avatar


      I agree with you but also feel like GM has 50,000 deck chairs for a ship that can carry 7,000 passengers. Re-arranging a ridiculously entrenched, sprawling bureaucracy built up over decades is best done in stages. I say keep firing dead weight, hiring new people and rearranging the existing management until every last vestige of the old bureaucracy is destroyed.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    Mulally came into Ford with no auto industry experience and is doing a pretty darn good job. The problem with even the best “Car Guys” like Lutz is that they always want to build what they think would be fun to have, not what the marketplace is ready and willing to buy.

    Merkur, GTO, G8, Saturn Astra … those are the kinds of Say What products you can get from a Lutz.

    • 0 avatar

      Mulally at least had experience in the manufacturing sector, and knew a thing or two about offering the right products to lure customers away from competitors.

      Sure, Boeing isn’t Buick (and on behalf of millions of airline passengers, thank God for that) but it’s still a better qualification to run an automaker than Grandpa Whitless brings to the game.

      At this rate, each new LaCrosse will soon come with a rotary phone… because if anyone knows what car buyers want, it’s good old Ed!

  • avatar

    Today, GM….. tomorrow, the world!


  • avatar

    Whitacre might be on to something here. It seems the chess pieces are being rearranged by a laser guided system. People seem to be showing up in departments more suited for their skills rather than the old Peter Principle of management. In accepting input from lower management shows that Captain Whitacre is reading old war stories of Asia, and learning some lessons.

  • avatar

    Ed, It’s time to start building cars that people want. It’s about cars, not numbers! The numbers will take care of themselves if you got great cars! In the 50’s and 60’s GM was the leader in style and design.(and profit!) It’s easy to do again, just tell the engineers to design the best cars, and get out of the way.

  • avatar

    these are very talented and knowledgable executives. moving them around and up is likely a good thing and almost to be expected in a company the size of GM. only concern is having a Chairman also serving as CEO. we should have learned that lesson under Wagoner. nothing against Big Ed, but he would be more effective by choosing one position or the other.

    • 0 avatar

      eventually, if the company prospers, the positions can be separated, i.e., the tactical (CEO)from the strategic (Chair)… but for the time being, the game of overhaul likely benefits from a combined position…

  • avatar

    GM has been designing potentially great cars all along. The last few decades are a testament to how much damage penny-wise, dollar-foolish beancounting can do. TTAC pointed that out a few years ago with its review of the “entry level” version of Pontiac’s top of the line full size Grand Prix. TOL shouldn’t even HAVE a stripped entry level model.

    The bigger issue that John Horner pointed out is, GM won’t be successful building the “best” cars, but the cars people want to buy. Once they figure the market out, leave it to engineers, not bean counters, to figure out how to build them at a price that makes a profit.

  • avatar
    Greg Locock

    Ya know, this continual demonizing of bean counters, the Darth Vadars of car companies, vs the Skywalking engineers, is getting a bit old hat.

    Consumer boxes are built to a price. Get over it. If Toyota sell an equivalent 4 seater B class car for 16000 bucks then you’ve got a pretty solid benchmark for your target price in that market. Somebody has to add the numbers up, somebody has to make the content vs selling price tradeoffs. Calling the guy who adds the numbers up a beancounter is amusing but doesn’t advance the argument.

  • avatar

    I’m not anti-Whitacre, but to step into the GM mess only can be for ego at his age, and that’s the scary part. From what I have read and observed, having auto industry experience is a negative, and the balls to start firing or hold-accountable the Old-Boys-Club clowns at the top of the industry is a huge plus for Big-Ed. (And the still-brained, token, Upper-Executive Bimbo Chicks.) While many GM executives are talented and knowledgeable, most have been ineffective in the screwed-up, GM product development system (not fixed by the so-called “bankruptcy,” and again, the Peter-Principle applies big-time here. The constant shuffling of management reinforces the notion that the latest GM Initiative of The Month will soon go away with the next reshuffle, so just ignore it. This isn’t a bad thing, because many of GM’s Initiatives are a good idea, but acted on in a horribly wrong and inefficient way. Just look at how many models GM has for an 18-20% market share, of which one fourth is fleet.

  • avatar

    Whitacre’s management shakeup is probably not a bad thing – given GM’s recent history. However, the real challenge will be dealing with a new UAW deal in a couple years. My guess is that Whitacre bails by then.

    • 0 avatar

      As a former telecom executive, Whitarre has lots of experience working with organized labor. The local phone companies are heavily organized by the CWA and the IBEW so if he’s still running the show two years from now, I’m sure Whitacre is up to the challenge of negotiating with the UAW.

  • avatar

    what stage of maturity do you think the auto market is in Dr Ed?

  • avatar

    “The executive shake-ups show no signs of stopping at GM, as Ed Whitacre ended the week with yet another re-shuffle”

    He seems to be assembling the teams he needs to get the job done. So I would expect the tree to be shaken more.

    As a manager, you should try to assemble the best group of people possible. That’s your team, the people you count on and the people that will get stuff done, on time and rightly.

    GM has a LOT of good people inside it. I have never ever held a doubt on this (the same is valid for Chrysler and Ford). Putting them in the right places and empowering them (I guess) will (hopefully) translate into better product.

    “And apparently the shake-ups will continue. GM’s internal announcement of these changes promises that “other organizational changes” would be announced in the future.”

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