The last outsider to get such power at GM was Chicago attorney Elmer Johnson, brought in as general counsel in 1983. He attracted a following of young GM executives who wanted to shake up the company's inbred organization. Five years later, he was gone-dismayed that the company's management resisted the very idea of radical changes.
Now, of course, there's new leadership at GM. Chairman John Smale, the former Procter & Gamble Co. chief who led GM's boardroom revolt two years ago, insisted outside candidates be considered for the job of VP in charge of North American sales, service and marketing. Jack Smith, GM's president-CEO, has been bringing in executives like Richard Wagoner Jr., president of North American Operations.
As Bausch & Lomb's president-chief operating officer, Mr. Zarrella fit Mr. Smale's requirement for someone experienced in a consumer-focused products company. With substantial international experience, and only 45 years old, he also fits the profile for Mr. Smith's new executive team.
It's no secret GM had a tough time finding takers for this job. Mr. Zarrella will need to step on toes if he's going to weed out the overlapping models that blur GM's brand identities.
Yet it may take an outsider like Mr. Zarrella, and an insistent GM board, to get GM's divisions to focus on fighting Ford and Toyota and not each other.
So we'll applaud when Mr. Zarrella gets the backing to make real headway in defining and building clear brand identities for GM's cars and trucks.
When that happens, we'll even cheer.