The right choice for Commerce

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For the first time since its creation, the Commerce Department is set to be run by a top marketer. President Bush's nominee, Kellogg Co. Chairman-CEO Carlos Gutierrez, will put his background to good use as he helps package and sell the Bush economic plan. The ad community will benefit from the arrival in Washington of an executive who understands the value of marketing.

Well-connected industrial titans and seasoned politicians have run the department over the decades. Veterans of oil, cars, textiles and furniture have done the job. Bell & Howell's CEO, a former market-research executive, served in the early `70s. A steel executive who once worked at Young & Rubicam held the seat for a time. But never has an executive with such strong marketing credentials ruled this powerful cabinet post.

Mr. Gutierrez's life story is remarkable: Born in Havana and raised in New York, he rose to CEO without a college degree. In announcing his CEO appointment, Kellogg said he began as a "sales representative." President Bush offered an Alger-esque version: "Carlos took his first job for Kellogg as a truck driver, delivering Frosted Flakes to local stores." He can now help the GOP deliver Hispanic votes.

While Mr. Gutierrez has no experience in politics, that could be an asset. He's not a hard-line partisan; he gave no money to the Bush campaign and in recent years made relatively small contributions to others, including at least three Democrats. It will take more than sugarcoating to sell the Bush plan to Democrats, but his lack of extreme partisanship should give him more credibility.

Mr. Gutierrez knows a world of commerce and cultures, having worked for Kellogg in Latin America, Canada, Asia and the U.S. He sold investors on Kellogg's impressive turnaround story and invested in products and marketing. He was floated earlier this year as a prospect to run Coca-Cola Co. Now Mr. Gutierrez has a chance to make his mark on a different stage. Marketing drives commerce, and a marketer will run Commerce.

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