General Motors Co. (GM), the largest U.S. automaker, said Robert Ferguson, vice president of global public policy, will lead its Cadillac brand as the company tries to align itself globally and away from regional authority.
Chief Executive Officer Dan Akerson is pushing to make Cadillac a stronger competitor against German luxury brands, especially in the U.S. and China, with new products such as the compact ATS sedan. He’s working to reorganize the company around global functions and brands, two people familiar with the thinking have said.
Ferguson, 53, joined GM in 2010 after a career in the telecommunications industry. He starts in the newly created position of vice president of global Cadillac effective immediately, said Ryndee Carney, a GM spokeswoman. Ferguson is responsible for marketing, brand management and advertising of Cadillac, she said. After Jan. 1, the brand’s sales will be added to his duties, she said.
“I’m speechless,” said Maryann Keller, principal of a self-named consulting firm in Stamford, Connecticut. “Was there nobody inside GM who could’ve done this job, who knows something about cars, knows something about Cadillacs, understands the brand, knows the competition, who couldn’t have done this job -- sort of hit the ground running?”
Selim Bingol, GM’s vice president of global communications, will add Ferguson’s duties in Washington, GM said in a statement.
GM wants to double the 2010 U.S. sales of Cadillac within two years. The Detroit-based automaker sold 146,925 Cadillac cars and sport-utility vehicles that year, according to researcher Autodata Corp. Cadillac and Chevrolet are the two brands the company wants to sell worldwide. In April, Akerson said GM targets Cadillac sales in China to reach U.S. levels by the middle of the decade.
GM plans to introduce 10 new or refreshed Cadillac models, including the ATS, over three years.
Ferguson, whose father was a missionary educator, spent time as a child living in southeast Asia, attending high school in Singapore and junior high school in Kuala Lumpur. That adds to his global perspective.
“The first thing we want to do is take advantage of scale where we have it,” he said of Cadillac. “We’ve done a fine job of working on the Cadillac brand but just having a team dedicated every day without a divided focus on building that brand and working with the dealer distribution network, enhancing the customer experience and focusing all of their energies without any other distraction has to be a positive for Cadillac.”
The shares fell 0.8 percent to $24.37 at the close in New York. They have gained 20 percent this year.
“It does seem that there is some desire to shake things up at GM and that’s one reason why you bring in an outsider,” Jeremy Anwyl, vice chairman of Edmunds.com, a website that tracks auto sales, said today in a telephone interview. “It’s this reflexive thinking that, ‘Hey we don’t need people that are steeped in the auto industry.’”
Ferguson joined GM from a business advisory and strategic communications firm called Public Strategies. Prior to that, he spent more than 10 years at AT&T Inc. (T), including as president of state legislative and regulatory affairs. He also was group president of predecessor company SBC Communications Inc.’s enterprise business services, responsible for 10,000 employees, GM said.
“It’s probably not the first thing you had in mind when you woke up this morning, that the public-policy guy would become the head of Cadillac,” Ferguson said. “My background has a lot of marketing and sales in it.”
Don Butler, U.S. vice president for Cadillac marketing, and Chase Hawkins, U.S. vice president for Cadillac sales and service, will report to Ferguson, GM said.
“Bob is a proven leader with vision and a will to win at this critical time for Cadillac,” Akerson said today in the statement. “He brings a deep business and marketing background that has been marked by delivering results at every stop and under every circumstance. The Cadillac brand will hit a higher gear under his watch.”
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