As exec VP-global business director on the account, Mr. O'Malley, 49, fills the vacancy created when Peter Schweitzer was promoted to president-CEO of JWT. Mr. Schweitzer started looking to fill the post in December.
Mr. Schweitzer said he likes Mr. O'Malley because, "He knows the business cold. He knows the dealer network cold. He has courage. He has character. I think he'll be great. He's sort of a self-made man."
Mr. O'Malley cited several reasons for leaving GM after nearly 13 years.
"I needed a change," said the Detroit-area native and son of a car salesman. The agency job offers him the opportunity to stay in both the car business and marketing. He was also impressed with JWT's reputation, the agency's Ford reel and its integrated marketing approach.
Although his job encompasses the Ford account in nearly 60 countries, the father of six daughters plans to initially focus on the automaker's North American account.
Cars have always been a part of Mr. O'Malley's life. He recalled visiting his dad at the dealership with his nine siblings and washing cars there on Saturdays. He helped support himself as an undergrad at Harvard University selling new and used cars. (He later got his master's degree in business administration from the University of Detroit.) He joined Ford in 1977 and held a series of jobs that included owner relations manager, sales analyst and Detroit zone manager. But ex-Ford patriots wooed him to Chrysler Corp. in 1981.
He didn't know much about advertising, but read everything he could on the topic. "I learned a lot at Chrysler in those days."
His first job at Chrysler was developing product brochures for dealerships. In 1986, he became national ad manager for the Chrysler vehicle brand.
His boss then was Arthur "Bud" Liebler, general marketing manager for both Chrysler and Plymouth. Mr. Liebler, who retired in February as senior VP-global marketing at Chrysler Group, said Mr. O'Malley's strong suits are his "factory point of view, plus a lot of dealer involvement. His knowledge and understanding of the car business will help in developing advertising."
Mr. O'Malley joined GM in 1988 as general director of strategic merchandising operations. During his GM years, he also served as general marketing manager at Buick Division and ad director at Cadillac.
"I've grown up in the industry and I know the business reasonably well, since I've had the chance to be involved with a lot of different aspects," Mr. O'Malley said. "That should allow me to bring a fresh perspective to the business."
He sees his shining career moment thus far as starting up GM's North Central region as regional general manager in a 1999 reorganization. "We basically started from scratch and we brought 500 people together to focus on business goals. It was a very difficult time, but was an exciting time." He's also proud of dialing up the emotion in Cadillac commercials and putting more focus on Cadillac Division in ads from Bcom3 Group's D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, Troy, Mich.
The biggest change he foresees in switching to the agency side is "anticipating and empathizing with Ford's needs and business problems and trying to find solutions, than actually having problems on the client side."