By on September 6, 2019

General Motors Renaissance Center

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]

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54 Comments on “GM Appoints New Marketing Officer After Going Seven Years Without...”

  • avatar

    Let’s be clear. The “Dare Greatly” campaign was a flop because the product failed to deliver on the claim. Cadillac put out concept after concept which absolutely floored the industry, only to produce ho-hum designs which were neither daring nor great.

    • 0 avatar

      The whole campaign was stupid.

    • 0 avatar

      So, I m up in Buffalo all week at my sisters. She has a new XT 5. I get in the passenger seat. My shoulder and upper arm are in full contact with the ‘B’ pillar.

      Now that is a good size car. Yet I was squished in. The rental accord had much more upper body room.

      Oh yeah. Indecipherable HVAC and radio and Touch screen.

      Horrible car. And it is what – 50 large.?

      How do they sell ANY OF THESE?

      • 0 avatar
        Peter Gazis


        So what you’re saying is you are too fat for a Cadillac XT5, and too stupid to use the HVAC & Radio controls.

        Got it!

      • 0 avatar

        I haven’t been in the XT5 but have been in the predecessor SRX that is barely distinguishable. I mirror the sentiment that it’s not made for humans to sit in the rear. I was left floored how something so basic on a minivan was overlooked. Further questioned why these vehicles even sell. God help me in a wreck, the airbag would take my head off.

        • 0 avatar
          Peter Gazis


          Different vehicle riding on a different platform.

          • 0 avatar

            Well why the heck do they make it look exactly the same as the predecessor, the blob look is not attractive and it certainly doesn’t do the brand any favors even if it sells well.

          • 0 avatar
            Peter Gazis


            Can’t tell the difference between the SRX & XT5. How very WOKE of you.
            May I suggest Subaru, the brand for people who can’t tell the difference.

    • 0 avatar

      The concept cars were spectacular….shame they never made any of the, and we go the boring third gen CTS and the indistinguishable CT6. A Ciel for $150k would have been a real statement. The Elmiraj was a beauty as well.

  • avatar

    Hey, maybe they can come up with a marketing direction for Buick now.

    Then again, that assumes Buick has a direction besides “dead brand walking.”

  • avatar

    “She also spent a year as Chrysler’s CMO before putting in some time as McDonalds’ ….”

    I worked for a big railroad and the CMO (Chief Mechanical Officer) used to tell us worker-bees that if we didn’t fix all of the broken $hit, we’d end up at McDonalds; sounds like the same thing happened to her too.

    Seriously, I hope she’s got more going for her than Susan Docherty, a true lost ball in high grass; I have initial doubts however:

    “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.”

    Not exactly confidence inspiring, sounds more like lipstick on a pig. I’d forget the crest and fix the cars, make them into something that their supposed target market really wants to own instead of watching their market share continue to shrink and slip through their fingers.

    • 0 avatar

      Cadillac has been “reinventing” itself seemingly my whole life. The Seville, the Cimarron, the tiny ’80s cars, the Northstar, the CTS all arrived with similar “reinvention” hype, yet Cadillac continues to slip further.

    • 0 avatar
      Secret Hi5

      McDonald’s is a hugely successful corp. Being an upper executive there would look good on a CV. (Burger flipper, not so much)

  • avatar

    Well, the move gets a big thumb-up from Peter M. DeLorenzo over at The Autoextremist. He doesn’t give those out very often, so maybe this is a good thing.

    “Editor-In-Chief’s Note: After an interminable seven long years, GM has finely (sic) seen the light to appoint a Chief Marketing Officer. Deborah Wahl, who had been functioning in that role for Cadillac, now becomes the first CMO for General Motors since former CEO Dan “Captain Queeg” Akerson railroaded Joel Ewanick out of that position in 2012. Wahl, who has worked at McDonald’s and Chrysler in her past CMO lives before her Cadillac assignment began last March, now takes the reins of all marketing at GM, something that has been so desperately needed and so long overdue that it stopped being even mildly amusing six-and-one-half years ago. Deborah is exceedingly smart and and one of the best and the brightest, and I see great things in GM’s marketing future across all of its divisions. This is a big-time positive move for GM -PMD”

  • avatar

    First move? Scrap Chevrolet’s “real people” campaign.

    • 0 avatar

      ^THIS ^

      Nausea inducing. I cant watch them.

    • 0 avatar




    • 0 avatar
      Peter Gazis


      Chevy’s crossover/SUVsales are through the roof. Chevy is also the most popular brand with younger buyers.
      The “real people” campaign works.

      The Chevy real people adds have been running for about 4 years. Toyota has had Jan around for 10. Don’t you think it’s a bit hypocritical to be complaining about Chevy?

      • 0 avatar

        Peter, you have got to be trolling, no one can look at Chevrolet’s lineup and believe they’re standing behind a good product. I’ll give the C7, Tahoe, Suburban all props for being good, unfortunately all are due for replacements and their successors are having very mixed reactions. Everything else they sell is a load of crap that I wouldn’t be caught dead in.

  • avatar

    Stop selling image. Start selling cars.

  • avatar

    RE Wahl

    Sure moved around a lot. A LOT.

    She is either
    1 really good.
    2 job hopper with all the buzz word jive down COLD.

    I suspect #2

    If she is #1 she ll be gone in a year or 2. GM is a crazy place to work. (I was there for 8 years. An Assy Plant and a Powertrain plant)
    Sane – good people cannot work there long term.

    Which bring up my next question. Where s DEADWeight?

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    While I generally despise car ads and think they contribute little to actual sales, a notable exception is Subaru. Cadillac/GM should hire the Subaru people.

  • avatar

    Is marketing the biggest problem GM faces? Or is it the product quality, dealer experience, product reliability, etc and how those metrics compare to Toyota, Honda, Ford, Hyundai, etc?

    Wahl could be Steve Jobs, but if she’s marketing below average products, it won’t matter much.

  • avatar

    So they didn’t appoint Buickman to the job?


  • avatar

    >>General Motors is moving Cadillac marketing chief Deborah Wahl up the food chain by appointing her as its global chief marketing officer <<

    because that was such a raging success

    does the "Peter Principle" apply? or is there another name for failing up for non-males – not that the Cadillac debacle should be laid at her feet

    Cadillac used to mint money for GM, I suspect Cadillac has been a real drag on GM for at least a decade. just imagine how bad it would be w/o the Cadillac Edition Suburban

    • 0 avatar

      Cadillac and Corvette are halo brands or names. How does Acura pad Honda coffers these days?

    • 0 avatar

      I have no idea if she’s brilliant & mercurial, or just another resume-polisher with fancy patter like Melody Lee.

      GM has swallowed up lots of talented people over the last 50 years.
      Wahl’s got the same problems facing any GM executive:

      1)GM’s convoluted infrastructure
      2)Over-priced and over-hyped products that don’t deliver
      3)Two generations of buyers who won’t even consider much of their product line
      4) A dealer body that still wishes and acts like it is 1978

      There is only so much that smart marketing can do to overcome that.
      Wahl may or may not last, but so what? When you got nothing, what have you got to lose? Personally, I’m rooting for a remarkable success story!

  • avatar

    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.

  • avatar

    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.

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