Ditzy Docherty Done
Susan Docherty, a life-long career woman at GM, suddenly wants to stay at home with her husband and 13 year old son, or so GM wants us to believe. According to Selim Bingol’s troops, Docherty “announced her intention to leave General Motors to spend time with her family, effective September 30.” Docherty is 49, that’s no retirement age.
Three years ago, Ed Niedermeyer and TTAC was “looking forward to her departure from General Motors.” Now his wish is fulfilled. In the tradition of Farago’s death watches, things always take a little longer than expected at GM, but eventually, they happen. Usually, they happen too late.
Docherty’s career was in trouble when it reached new heights. After Bob Lutz retired (sort of), Ed Whitacre merged GM’s Sales, Marketing, and Service into one job, and to everybody’s (silent – saying something would have been sexist) bafflement, Susan got the job, and the kiss of death along with it. That job would have been too big for bona-fide superstars; with Docherty, it was the Peter Principle in instant action. Just three months later, she had to give half her job, and with sales the most important part, to Mark Reuss. A few month after that, Joel Ewanick took the other half , the marketing job – which soon proved too big a pair of shoes even for certified miracle maker Ewanick. He may have been able to walk on water, the parting of a sea of shit overtaxed even his abilities.
Ewanick will be remembered for an ad where frogs dropped out of the sky, and for upsetting both nerds (no ads for Facebook) and good old boys (no ads for the Super Bowl, but for soccer.) Docherty left a flotsam of ditzy memories in her wake. Her “Volt Dance” became Internet luz-material . Her Fastlane live chat performance turned into an embarrassment. She was unable to face reality in regards to GM’s incentive levels, and her Chevy tagline “Excellence For Everyone” was an instant flop.
Docherty was shipped far, far away, to China as VP of sales, marketing and after sales of GMIO, GM’s rest of the world. What ostensibly was a lateral move, was a demotion. Being the marketing chief for disparate regions and cultures, all the way from China to Africa, is a tough job when you can understand neither headline nor copy, and when the agency keeps saying, “sorry, Sir, errr, Miss, that’s impossible to translate, but it is very witty in Mongolian.” Or when you make a suggestion, and the local viceroys tell you “love it, but they’ll stone me for it back in Burkina Faso.” In the best of cases, everybody agrees on a strategy, then they go home and do whatever they please. As long as sales go up, nobody notices. If sales go down …
A little more than a year after Susan knew the difference between “heng hao” and “bu yao”, Docherty was out in Shanghai, and on her way to Zurich, where she led GM’s punishment battalion on a suicide mission: She was put in charge of Chevrolet and Cadillac Europe.
The European automotive industry, Saudi Arabia, and Switzerland are the last holdouts of male chauvinism, and Susan was in two out of three.
Cadillac may become a mild success in Europe when Elvis returns in a pink CTS, but not earlier. Chevrolet, for all intents and purposes a new brand nobody in Europe has been waiting for, is dipping its toes into a market where the auto trade resembles a pool of starving piranhas. Good luck with that bloody pedicure.
It’s probably not her fault, but on Docherty’s watch, EU Chevrolet sales dropped more than 30 percent in the first five months of this year. Hit squads, dispatched from the RenCen to identify the guilty, rounded up Docherty, were done with it, and hit the Kronenhalle for a celebratory Geschnetzeltes mit Rrrröschti. En guete!
Where to send Susan now? North Korea? Nah, they have the bomb and might use it. Let’s send her home.
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She served a needed corporate function. The bullet taker. The bullet taker must be a blindly loyal Kool Aid drinker and dispenser and have little intellectual curiosity or critical thinking abilities. You put the bullet taker into a career killing suicide position -- a mostly un-winable situation where a fall guy is needed to take the bullets that said predicted failure will produce. Susan, never quite comprehending the political or practical situations into which she was being sent, gave a cross-eyed salute and marched to war, spouting her rehearsed lines and executing a perfect botch. This allowed GM, which had watched bad situations turn even worse, step back and watch her take the fall, while preserving sharper players to play the rescue role. Eventually, the bullet taker can no longer be sent into lost wars to play the fall guy, er, gal. Too shot up to be believable. And so we find Susan, sent home from the war, a useful if unwitting combatant.
Domestic Hearse may be close to the truth, but the fact is, when you listen to Docherty, watch her or read a transcript, what is off-putting to most who hear or read it is the relentless spin on everything. I rather doubt that she invented this on her own. Rather, I am pretty confident that she talks this way to conform to the expectations of everyone at GM. Notice that she praises the questioner who refers to bad GM dealers for "being candid." If you're in a culture where "being candid" is something that is singled out for recognition, then -- I submit -- you're in a dysfunctional culture that, among other things lies to itself. A culture that lies to itself -- whether it's a business or a country (e.g., the old USSR) -- is doomed to fail. So, Ms. Docherty is simply a reflection of the old GM culture that created her . . . a culture that, to this day, doesn't know how the company ended up in bankruptcy . . . but has lots of people/institutions/circumstances to blame for it. I think it's unfortunate if her career ends at 49; she seems like a decent enough person, but someone who absorbed the GM culture all too well and now is its victim.