WOMEN TO WATCH: FRANCIS SCALES GM MOUNTAINS

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Karen francis has climbed the ladder at General Motors Corp. in a short time.

Her promotion last December to Rocky Mountain regional manager of GM's Chevrolet division indicates GM is pleased with her performance and is grooming her for a higher post.

Ms. Francis, 35, joined the division in March 1996 as brand manager of Chevy's Venture minivan. She arrived at the auto industry an outsider, from writing-equipment marketer Berol Corp., where she was VP-marketing.

WORKED ON CREST

Her earlier experience as assistant brand manager of Crest toothpaste at Procter & Gamble Co. no doubt caught GM's eye. Former P&G Chairman John Smale brought P&G-style brand management to the automaker in late 1994 as GM's new chairman.

Ms. Francis played a key role in the Venture's launch in February 1997, a push that included a U.S. Soccer sponsorship with other Chevy models, a co-promotion with Walt Disney Co.'s "Hercules," and a safe-driving campaign with McDonald's Corp.

Ron Zarrella, group VP-sales, service and marketing at GM's North American Operations, praised the success of Venture's integrated blitz at the carmaker's first internal Alpha advertising excellence awards late last year. Ms. Francis, along with Chevy agency Campbell-Ewald, Warren, Mich., won one of only 10 awards.

Venture posted the best monthly sales of any minivan in Chevrolet history in November 1997-8,586. It scored a 6.2 share in the minivan segment in 1997.

"Her Venture brand management background will serve her well as she broadens her sales and marketing experience in our Western field organization," says John Middlebrook, the division's general manager.

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