Cole is new General Motors face in D.C.

Ken Cole
Age: 54

Title: Vice president, government relations, General Motors

Previous position: Corporate vice president, government relations, Honeywell Inc.

Personal: Married, three children, one grandchild

Quote: Part of the job is helping company executives "understand why government officials do some of the things they do, which sometimes would appear to be irrational if you're sitting in your own conference room."

WASHINGTON - Ken Cole, General Motors' new vice president for government relations and its top executive in Washington, combines traits of his predecessors.

He succeeds the politically connected Andrew Card, President Bush's chief of staff. Card had followed George Peapples, a low-key company man, and James Johnston, a long-time Washington veteran.

Cole, like Card, has ties to the Bush family. He, like Peapples, is versed in automotive issues. And like Johnston, he has been a familiar face throughout Washington for decades.

Best-laid plans

Cole said top GM officials sought him out after an agreement was reached for Cole's former employer, Honeywell Inc., to merge with General Electric - and hardly anything has gone as planned since then.

First, the European Commission killed the giant merger, but GM and Cole kept their bargain to have him take over the automaker's Washington office in August.

Then came the terrorist attacks, forcing Cole to deal with issues not previously high on GM's agenda.

"It's no ordinary time," Cole said.

In the aftermath of the attacks, GM has tried to smooth the flow of cargo across borders and through the air, despite heightened security, Cole said. And the company has been offering suggestions to the administration and Congress on what should be in an economic stimulus package.

Such demands came on top of Cole's efforts to get up to speed on automotive issues. His past familiarity was based primarily on the supplier role played by Honeywell and one of its antecedent companies, AlliedSignal.

Links to Bushes

"I'm kind of drinking from the fire hose right now," he said of his crash course in the details of such traditional GM issues as corporate average fuel economy standards, or CAFE.

Such colorful figures of speech, along with hints of a Texas drawl and the talent to spin a yarn, are part of the Cole persona. A two-decade veteran of Washington lobbying, he also has been highly visible on the city's cultural and social scene.

Annette Guarisco, corporate director of public policy and government relations at Honeywell, said her former colleague "knows everybody on every level" of government and "knows how to advocate positions without making enemies."

Cole's ties to the Bushes began when he volunteered for George H.W. Bush's unsuccessful presidential bid in 1980.

He is personally acquainted with President George W. Bush but is careful not to claim chumminess.

Said Cole: "We don't go eat Mexican food together, but we know each other."

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