Behind the Wheel with Phil Lebeau

The More Things Change at GM, the More They Stay the Same


Remember when GM went into bankruptcy back in 2009 and nearly everyone (including the new CEO Ed Whitacre) said the same thing?

I do.

It went something like this: “GM needs a fresh approach to how it does business.” The idea was to bring in new blood, new ideas and a new day for GM .

Three years later, GM is starting to look like a patient constantly getting a transfusion with fresh blood (executives) going into new leadership positions, but the organs inside the body are still working just as they did before when the patient started withering away.

The latest example is Chief Marketing Officer Joel Ewanickbeing ousted from his position. While neither Ewanick nor GM are saying much about why he suddenly resigned, there is plenty about Ewanick pushing GM to go too far, too fast in its quest to change the way GM sold its brands.

Ewanick made headlines by pulling $10 million in direct advertising from Facebook just days before the Facebook IPO and saying he wasn’t sure direct ads on the social network were effective. He also said GM would not pony up the big bucks it would cost to run GM spots during the Super Bowl. Add to that Ewanick’s controversial move to consolidate GM’s numerous relationships with ad agencies around the world and it was clear Ewanick was shaking things up at the automaker.

Now he’s gone. The latest executive to leave or be replaced at a company once seen as stodgy and unwilling to change. Guess what? GM is still seen as unwilling to change, especially in middle management.

General Motors' Chief Marketing Officer Resigns

CEO Dan Akerson knows that GM needs to change.

Perhaps that’s why he has replaced his CFO, CMO, the head of Opel and the President of OnStar. The issue is changing the GM culture below the management ranks, down in the gut of General Motors. Ewanick tried to do that and you could argue that some of his ideas and approaches to conveying a new path at GM were wrong. It’s likely we’ll never know the answer.

Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg recently met with GM CEO Dan Akerson to discuss GM and the social networking giant working together in the future. I won’t be surprised if that happens. Nor will I be surprised to see Chevy ads running during the Super Bowl next year. Both would show that the more things change at GM, the more they stay the same.


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