UPDATED: 5/19/14 12:01 pm ET - adds Cervone comment
WASHINGTON -- General Motors, in the thick of a recall crisis that prompted a $35 million fine from the U.S. government last week, said today that it rehired public-relations executive Tony Cervone, who served as one of GM’s top spokesmen as the company veered toward bankruptcy.
Cervone, 51, was named senior vice president, global communications, succeeding Selim Bingol, who left GM in April. Cervone had been executive vice president for corporate communications at Volkswagen Group of America in suburban Washington, a position he had held since 2011.
He previously left GM in early 2009 after a decade-long tenure with the company to work at UAL Corp., the former parent company of United Airlines.
In an interview today, Cervone said he jumped at the opportunity to take a job that he described as the “preeminent automotive communications job in the industry.” He said he knows some of the executives fairly well from his previous stint at GM, though there is some “new blood” within the company.
“I just think this company has the opportunity to rebuild its reputation to be an American icon again,” he said. “Being part of the team that helps to do that is really exciting to me.”
With the hire, GM gets a battle-tested executive with an understanding of the company but an outsider’s fresh eyes. That appears to have been a draw to new GM CEO Mary Barra, who has vowed to cut through the company’s famous bureaucracy.
In a statement announcing the move, Barra said Cervone “brings an ideal mix of outside perspective and experience that complements a deep background in GM and today’s global auto industry.”
“I know he’ll be another catalyst for change on our leadership team,” she added.
The hiring again pairs Cervone with his mentor Steve Harris, whom GM brought out of retirement this month as a consultant on public relations. The duo worked together at Chrysler in the 1990s as the company fought off a hostile takeover bid from casino mogul Kirk Kerkorian, before embarking on an ill-fated merger with Daimler AG.
Harris, who had fled the company to become GM’s chief spokesman, lured Cervone to join him in 2000. They worked together closely as GM drew closer to bankruptcy and made a successful push for a U.S. government bailout.
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