GM lobbyist Ferguson, former AT&T exec, to steer Cadillac worldwide
Ferguson: Cadillac's challenge is to attract a more-diverse group of buyers, including professional women.
DETROIT -- General Motors named a former AT&T executive who served as the automaker’s voice in Washington after its U.S.-steered rescue to become global chief of Cadillac.
Robert Ferguson, 53, who has been GM's vice president of global public policy, is now vice president of Cadillac worldwide, a new position. He reports directly to GM CEO Dan Akerson, GM said in a statement.
Ferguson was hired by Ed Whitacre, then GM CEO, as part of a wave of outsiders charged with re-inventing the company after its 2009 bankruptcy. In his first automotive operations role, Ferguson will attempt to transform the American luxury brand into a strong worldwide player and better challenge Asian and European rivals.
Cadillac posted global sales of 202,559 units last year, up from 183,716 in 2010. But 80 percent of last year’s sales were in North America.
BMW, the world’s top-selling luxury automotive brand, generated 2011 sales of 1.38 million units, followed by Volkswagen Group’s Audi with sales of 1.3 million and Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz division with 1.26 million.
Ferguson will focus on Cadillac marketing and advertising immediately and on the brand’s sales starting Jan. 1. Don Butler, Cadillac’s U.S. vice president of marketing, now reports to Ferguson. Chase Hawkins, the brand's U.S. vice president of sales and service, will report to Ferguson after the start of the new year.
Hired by Whitacre
Ferguson was brought to GM in early 2010 by his old boss, Whitacre, who ran AT&T before taking over as the automaker’s chairman as it emerged from Chapter 11. Whitacre was succeeded by another telecom veteran, Akerson, later in 2010.
Previously, Ferguson worked at Public Strategies Inc., an Austin, Texas, consulting firm, where he was a senior strategist. He counseled a diverse group of clients, from companies involved in mergers and acquisitions to the president of the International Olympic Committee leading up to the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, GM said.
Before that, Ferguson spent more than a decade at AT&T in various executive roles, including CEO of SBC Communications' Enterprise Business Services, a 10,000-employee division that oversaw data, Internet and long-distance services. During Ferguson's stint there, the business unit had $5 billion in annual revenue and $1.9 billion in profit before interest and taxes, GM said.
Ferguson said his experience leading the unit of SBC, which merged with AT&T in 2005, gave him solid grounding in sales and marketing.
"I know how to run a sales organization and to work in a complex, engineering-driven organization," Ferguson said in an interview. "I'm more of a businessperson than a political person."
'A huge challenge'
Ferguson also said that new entries such as the Cadillac XTS large sedan and ATS compact buoy a lineup that is "the best Cadillac has had in my lifetime." The challenge, he said, is to attract a more-diverse group of buyers, including professional women.
"There's huge opportunity for us there, but there's also a huge challenge because we're not getting the consideration that we need," said Ferguson, who drives a Cadillac CTS V-Series coupe. He called the ATS "one that professional women would like."
The creation of Ferguson's new post marks the latest twist in GM's frequently changing marketing ranks.
In July, GM dismissed its global chief marketing officer, Joel Ewanick, for failing to disclose properly the details of a major sponsorship deal with the British soccer club Manchester United, sources have said. GM is searching for a permanent global marketing chief, a role now filled on an interim basis by Alan Batey, GM's U.S. sales boss.
GM's 2 global brands
Even after GM names a new global marketing leader, Ferguson still will report to Akerson, a GM spokesman said.
The chief marketing post vacated by Ewanick primarily has been responsible for the growth of Chevrolet. Akerson has designated two brands -- Chevrolet and Cadillac -- as GM's global growth drivers.
Chris Perry, Chevrolet's vice president of global marketing, would report to the future chief marketing officer once one is named, the spokesman said.
The new assignment gives "accountability for growth of the Cadillac brand to one person: marketing, sales, service, the whole retail experience," the spokesman said.
Last fall, Akerson said building the XTS and ATS in China would mark the first step in GM's plan to make Cadillac a true global brand. Chinese production of the XTS starts later this year.
Akerson also said it would take about nine years to establish Cadillac in China; GM would then take the brand "more international."
At the same time, Akerson held out little hope for significant growth in Europe in the near term. And that was before this year's heightened economic crisis there. Through August, GM sold 350 Cadillacs in Europe, down 10 percent from a year earlier.
In 2011, Cadillac sold a record 29,900 units in China. That nation's best-selling luxury car, the Audi A6L, tallies about 11,700 sales a month.
Ferguson has been based in Washington, D.C.
Selim Bingol, 52, will inherit Ferguson's duties by expanding his role as U.S. vice president of communications to include public policy. Bingol, also a former AT&T executive recruited by Whitacre in 2010, will remain in Detroit.
After being hired by Whitacre as vice president of government relations, Ferguson was promoted by Akerson in May 2011 to the global public policy post.
"Bob is a proven leader with vision and a will to win at this critical time for Cadillac," Akerson said 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."
You can reach Mike Colias at firstname.lastname@example.org.