GM reached outside the auto industry to select Ronald Zarrella, the president-chief operating officer of Bausch & Lomb Corp. Mr. Zarrella, 45, will take over as VP and group executive in charge of North American sales, service and marketing, effective Dec. 12. He succeeds J. Michael Losh, named a GM exec VP and chief financial officer on July 1.
The choice reconfirms the influence of GM Chairman John Smale, the former Procter & Gamble Co. chairman who insisted the automaker consider outside candidates.
At Bausch & Lomb, Mr. Zarrella was responsible for an eyecare company with about $2 billion in sales. At GM, he will help restructure a North American auto unit that does about $90 billion a year in business, but lost $328 million in the third quarter alone.
Because of GM's weak performance in North America, divisions are under pressure to reduce spending. Marketing executives expect their last-quarter budgets to take a hit, although how much isn't clear.
Reporting to Mr. Zarrella will be the vehicle division general managers and the other marketing group staffs, including the North American marketing and advertising unit led by VP Philip Guarascio.
Mr. Zarrella's broad background indicates GM is trying to widen its view of marketing to more than just selling vehicles. Developing clear brand images and designing products to fit will be added to the equation.
Part of GM's problem in sorting out identities is the need to provide enough products to feed five car divisions, plus GMC Truck and subsidiary Saturn Corp.
It's a system designed when GM commanded 45% to 50% share of the U.S. car and truck market. But its 1994 model year share was 34%, and the company has been scaling down its manufacturing operations to fit the new realities.
In contrast, Ford Motor Co. achieved a 24.8% share with two divisions for distribution. Chrysler Corp., with 14.3% share, is scaling its three sales and marketing units back to two.
The distribution system gives GM more shelf space, but it is costly to staff and produces pressure for overlapping models, said Jim Wangers, senior managing partner at Automotive Marketing Consultants, Warren, Mich.
In an interview with Automotive News, North American Operations President G. Richard Wagoner Jr. admitted GM's system "drives the need for a lot of product."
"That's one of the reasons we wanted an expert in brand management ... to look at that issue and many others and see if he can find a way to go to the market more effectively," Mr. Wagoner said.
Bausch & Lomb doesn't plan to name a successor to Mr. Zarrella, instead planning to realign duties for several top executives. All did not go well at Bausch & Lomb under his command. Earnings dropped 43.7% for the first nine months to $76.4 million.
However, those familiar with Mr. Zarrella offered praise.
"Ron is a very sharp internationally based general manager and should bring a business-based marketing perspective to the [GM] position," said David Stone, principal with New England Consulting Group, a Westport, Conn.-based management consultancy.
Pat Sloan and Emily DeNitto contributed to this story.