Last week's moves give sweeping powers to Susan Docherty at Buick-Pontiac-GMC, Mark McNabb at Cadillac-Hummer-Saab, Ed Peper at Chevrolet and Jill Lajdziak at Saturn to run the channels as separate businesses. GM says the new system gives brand leaders:
-- More control over incentives.
-- More power over advertising and marketing budgets.
-- More direct communication with field representatives and dealers.
-- Responsibility for sales and sales revenue.
-- More input on product.
"They'll be directly held responsible for the sales and sales revenue and bottom line performance of the channel," says Peter Ternes, a GM spokesman. "It changes their biggest role as being the voice of marketing to that of being the leaders of a business."
The channel heads report to Mark LaNeve, GM's vice president of vehicle sales, service and marketing.
Meanwhile, GM is eliminating much of GM's central sales organization. When Brent Dewar, North America vice president of field sales, service and parts, moves to become marketing chief of GM Europe, that position won't be filled.
Regional sales manager jobs will be eliminated, with regional sales staff reporting to yet-to-be-named sales managers for the channels. Those jobs likely will be in Detroit.
That gives added power to channel heads, three of whom also become vice presidents of GM North America: Peper, Docherty and McNabb.
Peper, 46, a Detroit native, has been Chevrolet general manager since April 2005. He was instrumental in lobbying to revive the Camaro sports car.
Canadian-born Docherty, 45, who has spent her entire career at GM, has run GM's western sales region since March 2006.
McNabb, 47, will move to Detroit after 21 years at Nissan and Infiniti divisions, as well as a stint heading Mercedes-Benz USA marketing.
Says Mike Maroone, COO of AutoNation Inc. in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.: "Bringing a guy with McNabb's experience into GM — GM already has a great executive team, but this is a real coup."
A slight?The moves appear to slight some people. For example, Lajdziak, 51, remains Saturn general manager while her counterparts become vice presidents. Marketing chief LaNeve says that is because Saturn is a smaller-volume channel than the others.
Also, LaNeve hired McNabb rather than promote Cadillac General Manager Jim Taylor, Saab General Manager Steve Shannon or Hummer General Manager Martin Walsh. Says LaNeve: "We've got excellent people, including Jim, Martin Walsh and Steve. We had an opportunity to really strengthen our management team by bringing McNabb in."
Jim Bunnell, who had been general manager of Buick-Pontiac-GMC, becomes executive director of the channel support group, a new position that will oversee fleet sales, media buying, auto show preparation and coordination across channels, LaNeve says.
But for all the movement, will GM's channel executives be able to move more quickly in the marketplace?
"If you're eliminating a layer of bureaucracy, I would say that's beneficial to the dealers in terms of getting their input," says Lynn Thompson, owner of Thompson Sales Co. (Buick-Pontiac-GMC-Cadillac-Saab) in Springfield, Mo.
Ed Peper, 46, becomes North America vice president for the Chevrolet channel. He had been Chevrolet general manager.
Susan Docherty, 45, becomes North America vice president for the Buick-Pontiac-GMC channel. She had been manager of GM's western region.
Jim Bunnell, 52, becomes executive director of channel support group. He had been general manager of Buick-Pontiac-GMC.
Jill Lajdziak, 51, continues as Saturn general manager, gaining sales responsibility.
'Right thing'GM's changes make sense in an overdealered market, Maroone says. "This structure is a major improvement and is the right thing at the right time, especially as GM moves to drive their channel strategy."
But one source familiar with GM's marketing organization says GM didn't go far enough.
"GM needs to flatten the organization," says the source, who declined to be identified.
"If you're the head of GM North America, Troy Clarke, and you're responsible for sales and marketing, you'd have the vice presidents report directly to Troy. You still have a layer there now."
The source also says the channel heads still have to get major expenditures approved. GM's Ternes says the channel leaders will have more responsibility with incentives, but they will still face some financial controls: "It doesn't mean they have an open checkbook. They have a budget that they have to manage to get the best outcome."
You can reach Jamie LaReau at email@example.com