Steve Shannon, Saturn Corp.'s director of consumer marketing, is moving Aug. 1 to Oldsmobile as general marketing manager, where he is being counted on to accelerate the Saturnization of Oldsmobile marketing and customer service. Mr. Shannon will replace Knox Ramsey, who will coordinate regional marketing efforts on the staff of Philip Guarascio, VP and general manager-marketing and advertising for GM's North American Operations.
The moves are significant, but only a foreshadowing of what will come by the time Ronald Zarrella's new brand management setup is in place, probably late this year. Indeed, the position of marketing director might not even exist inside GM vehicle divisions.
Mr. Zarrella, the former Bausch & Lomb president who is now VP in charge of GM's sales, service and marketing, is building a system in which some 20 to 30 brand managers will assume a lot of the responsibility for advertising, distribution and pricing decisions for particular models.
That means a changing role for all GM divisional marketing executives as GM makes its most sweeping reorganization since 1984, when Chairman Roger Smith took engineering and manufacturing responsibilities away from the divisions and left them as sales-and-marketing organizations. That is now regarded as the beginning of GM's decline.
The GM structure evolving now under Chairman John Smale and President-CEO John F. "Jack" Smith is supposed to bring marketers and product designers closer. The goal is to define distinct images for each brand and model, engineer those vehicles to meet customer needs and then effectively market the cars and trucks to the target customers.
Along with the brand managers, the key players will be about a dozen vehicle line executives, or VLEs, top engineers who will be responsible for developing the platform on which individual models are built.
Mr. Zarrella has led a series of internal discussions on defining the authority of brand managers and how they will relate to the VLEs.
"The process is still being evolved. But the brand manager will be a very powerful individual within the divisions," said Jeff Hurlbert, general marketing manager at Chevrolet division.
The brand managers are expected to report directly to the general manager at some divisions, flattening the organization by eliminating positions like marketing managers.
Chevrolet, GM's largest division with about 50% of the company's unit sales, will probably have a group between the brand manager and general manager to sort out ad budgets and other divisional marketing issues.
"A marketing individual will head that up, but whether or not it's a general marketing manager remains to be seen," Mr. Hurlbert said.
Mr. Ramsey agreed that "the nature of the [marketing director's] job is going to change as brand managers are put in place."
Before joining Oldsmobile in 1992, Mr. Ramsey was assistant general sales manager for Buick's West region. There, he led a team that first developed models with specific option packages aimed at California and spearheaded efforts to get GM's divisions to work together in that bellwether state.
Now, Mr. Ramsey will take the lessons GM has learned from its California marketing initiative and apply them in other regions. GM has passed Ford Motor Co. for the retail market share lead in California based on registration data from R.L. Polk.
Whether or not his title remains the same, Mr. Shannon will be expected to bring his working knowledge of Saturn's customer-friendly philosophy and processes to Oldsmobile.
"They've already made a lot of progress at Oldsmobile," Mr. Shannon said. "I've been lucky enough to be part of the Saturn experience, and I'll try to bring what I've learned to Olds."
Mr. Shannon said his role will include developing closer involvement with retailers, and trying to duplicate the "special chemistry" Saturn has with agency Hal Riney & Partners, San Francisco. Olds-mobile's agency is Leo Burnett USA, Chicago.