GM Needs Marketing Czar With P&G-Style Savvy

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Help wanted: One brand czar, to sort out the confusing identities of seven car and truck lines at the world's largest industrial corporation. Must be steeped in marketing, with a strong character to survive fierce internal politics and resistance to change.

General Motors Corp.'s decision to consider outside candidates to fill this job is a frank admission that the automaker's historical emphasis on manufacturing, engineering and finance has left it thin in top marketing talent.

It also fulfills expectations that John Smale, the former Procter & Gamble Co. chairman, would shake up the carmaker's marketing after he became GM chairman in a November 1992 management overhaul.

"It's no secret that John Smale has not been thrilled with the marketing activities of the various divisions," said one GM insider, who added that Mr. Smale mandated the outside search.

"They're moving the old gang out and new guys up," said Bart Cummings, who knows Mr. Smale well. Mr. Cummings is former chairman-CEO of Compton Advertising, a longtime P&G agency that was absorbed by Saatchi & Saatchi Worldwide.

There's speculation GM might pick an executive with brand management experience outside the auto industry-possibly someone with a background at a package-goods company such as P&G who may have moved on to another industry, such as airlines or computers.

The new hire will replace J. Michael Losh as VP and group executive in charge of sales, service and marketing for North American Operations. Mr. Losh, 48, was elevated to exec VP-chief financial officer as part of a realignment announced last week.

The changes included the appointment of G. Richard Wagoner Jr., 41, to the new post of president of GM's North American Operations, from chief financial officer.

Phil Guarascio, 53, was elected VP and will continue as general manager-marketing and advertising for North American Operations (see story below).

In the interim, Mr. Losh's former duties will be handled by Exec VP William Hoglund, 59, who plans to retire later this year.

Mr. Losh emphasized that GM is "looking at a full range of candidates, people both inside of GM and outside of GM."

"GM needs someone who can tell each division what they can and can't do in order to co-exist without blurring their personalities," said Jim Wangers, senior managing partner of Automotive Marketing Consultants, Warren, Mich.

He said John Middlebrook, VP-general manager at Pontiac, has done the sort of brand building that the post requires. Another marketing executive close to GM tabbed Mr. Middlebrook and Ed Mertz, VP-general manager of Buick, as co-favorites if the automaker chooses an inside candidate.

Of the two, Mr. Middlebrook, 53, offers the strongest marketing background. He has held a number of sales and marketing positions within GM, including VP-sales, service and marketing in Saturn Corp.'s start-up period. Mr. Mertz, 57, worked his way up through the engineering ranks until taking over Buick in 1986.

If GM looks outside, it might consider someone like Clark Vitulli, a former Chrysler Corp. sales and marketing executive who went on to become senior VP-chief operating officer at Mazda Motor of America. Mr. Vitulli is currently ceo of Mark III Industries, an Ocala, Fla., van conversion specialist.

If the carmaker settles on an outsider, it will likely be someone who's "aggressive and a top marketing dog at one of the top 25 largest advertiser companies," said John Thomas, managing director-consumer practice at Ward Howell International, an executive search company in Chicago.

"Smale would look kindly on Procter alumni who had proven themselves in the package-goods industry or more probably risen up several good notches handling big budgets like beer or consumer hard-goods," said Mr. Thomas, who compiles the annual Procter & Gamble Marketing Alumni Directory.

Chuck Lieppe, a former P&G VP, might be someone to watch. Considered part of P&G's "best and brightest" in the 1980s, Mr. Lieppe was chosen to head the Olestra Division when it appeared the fat substitute would revolutionize the food business. In 1989 though, he left P&G to become president-chief operating officer of WestPoint Pepperell and now is president-CEO of Berol Corp., Nashville, Tenn., one of the largest marketers of pens, pencils and school supplies.

Berol's chairman is none other than John Smale.

Mr. Lieppe apparently hasn't been contacted about the marketing job.

"I think that [GM's marketing position] is one of the most significant marketing challenges in the world today because it is an opportunity to revolutionize the way a business is run," he said, and declined to comment further.

Another former star P&G VP is Bill Connell, now retired as president of Whittle Communications. He led P&G into the beauty-care business and built the Vidal Sassoon and Pantene shampoo brands.

Some others who left P&G in the early '80s might fit the profile. Mike French, a former P&G brand manager on Zest soap, is now VP-fountain marketing at Coca-Cola Co. Another P&G alum, Bob Morrison, president of General Foods USA, has also been mentioned as someone with the marketing and brand background for the job.

A long shot might be Mal Jozoff, a former P&G group VP, who now is chairman-CEO of Lenox China, Lawrenceville, N.J.

Any outsider will have a daunting task in penetrating insular GM.

"The people reporting to [the new marketing executive], such as the division general managers, are all GM lifers," noted one GM agency executive.

"There will be a lot of resistance to any outsider," said another observer with ties to GM. "You've got to have the general managers in line if you're going to succeed."

In turn, the division general managers receive relentless pressure from dealers who may want a product or marketing program that provides short-term sales but sacrifices brand equity.

"The GM culture is extremely difficult for any outsider to break into," said one ex-GM executive.

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