Ron Zarrella's marketing organization wants to bring more sales, service and marketing functions into General Motors' North American Operations and away from the traditional GM marketing divisions.
The plan might eliminate divisional general manager posts as they are defined today. Most of the top people in divisional sales, service and marketing would get different responsibilities, according to a GM official.
The plan would boost the clout of the vehicle brand managers and consolidate within NAO many current divisional functions, including much of the dealer-interface field operations.
GM confirms only that the study is under way and stresses that no decisions are final. Dealers and even many people within the divisions are largely in the dark.
The move of GM's field staff from divisions to NAO is already being conducted by a Field Management Implementation Team, the GM official said. Various dealer council members say they are experiencing the shift, but GM has not briefed these dealers on the plan and will not confirm to them the FMIT's existence.
Zarrella, group vice president for sales, service and marketing, expects to propose the restructuring to the NAO Strategy Board in about a month, according to the GM official.
NAO hired a consultant last fall to study and propose changes, and Zarrella's people are finishing the proposal. The new structure aims to get better-targeted vehicles to market faster than the current divisional system, the GM official said. The title of divisional general manager may survive, but the role could be dramatically altered.
A high GM source confirmed that the current plan would eliminate the division general manager positions at Chevrolet, Pontiac-GMC, Oldsmobile, Buick and Cadillac. Saturn Corp.'s structure would not change.
NAO President Rick Wagoner hinted at a change in an interview with Automotive News last week.
'I can't imagine the world where we're not going to have people responsible for the Pontiac brand or Cadillac brand,' Wagoner said. 'If that's your question, general managers are not going away. If your question is, will the general manager of today always be like today, I doubt it.'
An executive at a GM supplier said consolidation could include a three-office NAO structure under Zarrella.
One job would handle sales, service and dealer issues; another would oversee brand management; the third would direct divisional advertising.
Candidates mentioned for the brand and sales jobs include two current general managers: John Middlebrook of Chevrolet and Roy Roberts of Pontiac-GMC. The leading candidate for the advertising post, sources said, is Philip Guarascio, NAO vice president and general manager of marketing and advertising.
FEWER LAYERS, COSTS
The supplier source said Zarrella's people are 'trying to get rid of some of the duplication and cut out some layers and cut out some costs. It will make GM more marketing driven.'
GM already is consolidating the divisional marketing staffs at its new headquarters at the Renaissance Center in Detroit. The final two divisions - Buick and Oldsmobile - will move into the Renaissance Center by fall.
Once the proposal is changed or approved by the NAO Strategy Board, it will go to the GM President's Council for final approval. None of the five affected general managers could be reached for comment last week.
Some GM dealers say NAO's tightening grip on field operations is cutting off their voice in company decisions.
'It's a disaster for the dealer,' said a dealer council member who asked not to be named. 'You can't get an answer from NAO; they do everything in committees.'
Zarrella's spokesman, James Farmer, said nothing has been completed: 'We are studying a number of different models within the vehicle sales, service and marketing group, but it isn't soup yet; no decisions have been made.' Zarrella declined to be interviewed.
EROSION OF POWER
If the general manager jobs are reduced or eliminated, it would signal another reduction of the traditional power structure within GM's divisions.
Until 1984, divisional general managers were virtually company presidents. They lorded over design, manufacturing and marketing.
In GM's 1984 reorganization into Buick-Oldsmobile-Cadillac and Chevrolet-Pontiac-GM Canada divisions, the managers lost much of their authority in product development and manufacturing.
Today, divisional general managers mostly oversee the sales, marketing, field staff and brand management teams of each division.
'They've changed a lot since the 1970 period, and they will continue to change,' said Wagoner.
'But someone responsible for the (divisional) brand is very important to us. That's not going to change.'