GM Appoints New Marketing Officer After Going Seven Years Without

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

General Motors is moving Cadillac marketing chief Deborah Wahl up the food chain by appointing her as its global chief marketing officer — a position which has sat unfilled since 2012.

The previous CMO, Joel Ewanick, was removed by former CEO Dan Akerson over a costly Chevrolet-Manchester United sponsorship deal blew up in his face. Officially, General Motors said Ewanick “failed to meet the expectations the company has of an employee” and left the position vacant, distributing its duties among other other employees — primarily Chevrolet’s now-retired CMO Tim Mahoney.

Wahl, 56, joined Cadillac in 2018, helping the brand further distance itself from the botched “Dare Greatly” advertising campaign. However, we’re not yet certain its freshened marketing materials are truly a cut from a different cloth. Several of the new spots carry over the same vague messaging, just with a bit more focus on product. Then again, perhaps the highbrow content is simply going over our heads.

“After some careful thought and consideration, we felt it was best to take our name back and be unapologetically Cadillac again,” Wahl said earlier this year. “In our newest brand campaign, ‘Rise,’ we have decided to allow the Cadillac name and our crest speak for themselves and continue to tell the story of our reinvention.”

According to Automotive News, CEO Mary Barra announced Wahl’s corporate ascension in an internal memo posted on Thursday. “By aligning marketing across GM under Deborah’s leadership, we will build stronger brands while ensuring more effective, efficient and agile customer engagement,” Barra said. The document also included a handful of other high-level staffing changes.

From Automotive News:

The executive changes also included moving Travis Hester, 47, president of GM Canada, into a newly created position: global vice president of customer experience. Hester will be responsible for maximizing customer engagement across the company, Barra said in the memo, reporting to both [Barry] Engle and GM President Mark Reuss, according to a GM Canada statement.

Scott Bell, vice president of sales, service and marketing for GM Canada, will replace Hester as president of GM Canada. Sandor Piszar, director of Chevrolet truck marketing since March 2014, will replace Bell.

Before moving to Cadillac, Wahl worked in the marketing departments of Lincoln-Mercury, Lexus, and Toyota. She also spent a year as Chrysler’s CMO before putting in some time as McDonalds’ marketing chief. She’ll report directly to Americas head Barry Engle. Meanwhile, marketing leadership at Buick, Chevrolet, Cadillac, GMC, OnStar, and GM Financial will all report to Wahl. Melissa Grady, director of Cadillac media and performance marketing since September, will become Cadillac’s new CMO.

[Image: General Motors]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • BklynPete BklynPete on Sep 06, 2019

    I wish Deborah Wahl all the best as General Motors' first real CMO since 2012. I will have to read up on her accomplishments inside and outside the auto industry, whatever they might be. GM is the U.S. Senate of big companies. It's where Dreams Go To Die. Its circumstances even swallowed up Bob Lutz, though he wasn't at the peak of his talent. If Wahl has a good BS detector and isn't afraid to use it, that will be a huge asset to GM dealers, consumers and shareholders — for however long GM Management lets her last! All I can say is give her a clean slate for 6-12 months. Whatever happened at Mickey D's or other car companies really doesn't matter if she can rise to the opportunity.

  • DweezilSFV DweezilSFV on Sep 08, 2019

    Could this mean the death of the "Not Your Father's Oldsmobile" type Buick ads ? No more "Real People" ? Or something more sinister since "Rise" was what the Manson girls wrote in blood on the wall of one of the victim's homes? Helter Skelter, GM.

  • Ajla There's a melancholy to me about an EV with external speaker-generated "engine" noise and fake transmissions. It feels like an admission from the manufacturer that you're giving something up and they are trying to give back some facsimile of it. Like giving a cupcake scented candle to someone on a diet. If I was shopping for an EV I'd rather go to a company enthusiastic about it rather than apologetic.
  • EBFlex More proof of how much EVs suck. If you have to do this, that means you are trying to substitute what people want...and that's ICE.
  • Akear The only CEO who can save Boeing, GM, and Ford is Alan Mulally. Mulally is largely credited with saving both Boeing and Ford. The other alternative is to follow a failed Jack Welch business model. We have all witnessed what Jack Welch did to GE, and what happened to Boeing when it was taken over by GE-trained businessmen. Below is an interesting article on how Jack Welch indirectly ruined Boeing.
  • ChristianWimmer The interior might be well-made, but the design is just hideous in my opinion. It’s to busy and there’s no simplistic harmony visible in it. In fact I feel that the nicest Lexus interior ever could be found in the original LS400 - because it was rather minimalistic, had pleasing lines and didn’t try to hard. It looked just right. All Lexus interiors which came after it just had bizarre styling cues and “tried to hard” if you know what I mean.
  • THX1136 As a couple of folks have mentioned wasn't this an issue with the DeLorean? I seem to recall that it was claimed you could do a 'minor' buff of the surface and it would be good as new. Guess I don't see why it's a big deal if it can be so easily rectified. Won't be any different than getting out and waxing the car every so often - part of ownership, eh.