Nissan sales VP Mark McNabb resigns

Dealers aren't happy about management turnover

Mark McNabb has resigned unexpectedly from Nissan Motor Co. Photo credit: JOE WILSSENS
UPDATED: 3/12/08 7:39 pm EST DETROIT -- Mark McNabb, Nissanís top North American sales and marketing executive, has resigned for personal reasons, the Japanese automaker said today.

McNabb, 47, senior vice president of sales and marketing for the Nissan and Infiniti brands, is thought to be moving to an undisclosed Detroit carmaker. He had faced aggressive and unrealistic sales targets from his superiors at Nissan, an executive close to the matter told Advertising Age today.

Nissan has undergone an executive exodus at all levels since it moved its headquarters to Nashville from Southern California in 2006.

Effective April 1, McNabb will be succeeded by Brian Carolin as senior vice president of sales and marketing. Carolin currently is senior vice president of sales and marketing for Nissan Europe and is also responsible for the launch of Infiniti across Europe.

ďWe regret but respect Markís decision to leave the company and thank him for his contributions over the previous 20 years to Nissanís success in North America,Ē Hiroto Saikawa, chairman of Nissanís management committee for the Americas, said in a statement.

ďI have enjoyed a long working relationship with Brian Carolin and have every confidence that he will provide strong leadership and a smooth transition over the coming months.Ē

It remained unclear late today which automaker may be recruiting McNabb. Sources familiar with General Motors' marketing department said it's not them.

"We don't comment on speculation," said GM spokeswoman Mary Henige.

Dealers unhappy with turnover

Pat Hoban, dealer principal with Capitol City Nissan in Atlanta, said his fellow dealers "are growing weary of the top management revolving door at Nissan."

Since Nissan moved from Los Angeles to Tennessee two years ago, the top-floor management suite has seen the departures of top executives Jed Connelly, Brad Bradshaw and now McNabb.

In the past six months, marketing maven Jan Thompson, quality boss Doug Betts and sales chief Bill Bosley also have quit. Product planning czar Jack Collins didn't make the move to Tennessee two years ago, a major blow.

Hoban said Nissan Motor CEO Carlos Ghosn "can't seem to get a handle on how to sustain market share growth in the U.S." despite Nissan having its strongest lineup in its history.

"Mark McNabb may have been the last best hope for Ghosn achieving his US goals. Mark had the respect of virtually every dealer. When Mark asked the dealers to do something, it was done, no questions asked. He forged a good working relationship with the retailers built on mutual respect," Hoban said.

Rising star

McNabb was a rising star at Nissan, having first joined the automaker in 1986. He resigned in the fall of 2005, shortly after being promoted to a top sales and marketing position at parent Nissan Motor Co. in Japan. Within months, he joined Mercedes-Benz USA as vice president of marketing. In January 2007, Mercedes-Benz moved him to vice president of sales.

But in March of that year, McNabb suddenly left to rejoin Nissan as corporate vice president, heading the Infiniti brandís global business. He was promoted three months later to his current position, retaining the global Infiniti title and duties.

Nissan and Infiniti spend about $1 billion in U.S. media annually. The automakerís U.S. vehicle sales rose 4.8 percent last year to nearly 1.07 million vehicles, according to the Automotive News Data Center. The companyís vehicle sales in the first two months of 2008 are flat at 162,824 units vs. 167,862 for the year-ago period.

In a memo to North American employees, Nissan made several other management announcements:

• Tsuyoshi Yamaguchi, president of the Nissan Technical Center North America in suburban Detroit, will be promoted to a soon-to-be-announced senior position at Nissanís global headquarters in Tokyo.

• Motohiro Matsumura, general manager of the vehicle test department at the Nissan Technical Center in Japan, will succeed Yamaguchi as president of Nissanís North American engineering organization.

• Tokuji Muramatsu, vice president of North American quality, will return to Japan after two years in the United States to assume a to-be-announced management position.

• Brad Thacker, senior director of product quality, will succeed Muramatsu, effective April 1. Before joining Nissan in 2005 as director of product quality, Thacker had a 20-year automotive career that included management positions at Toyota, Bridgestone and Michelin.

The Nissan memo also announced several other management changes in its North American finance and administration offices.

Mark Rechtin contributed to this report

Jean Halliday is a reporter for Advertising Age

You can reach Philip Nussel at pnussel@crain.com

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