Pierre Gagnon of Mitsubishi Motor Sales of America and Karen Francis of Oldsmobile - both Young Turks attempting to turn around their respective brands -will speak at the Wednesday morning session of the 2000 Automotive News World Congress.
Gagnon, 43, became COO of Mitsubishi in December 1997 after a decade with GM Canada and Saturn Corp. He took over a dormant company stalled at 200,000 units annually, with no image and little input from America regarding product decisions.
In the past two years, Gagnon has fired the ad agency, reorganized the company and made Japanese executives listen to North American ideas. He also has brought dealers into the boardroom, putting them on company 'change teams' so headquarters no longer is seen as an ivory tower.
Gagnon wants Mitsubishi to reach 250,000 sales in the near future, with a longer-term goal of 300,000 units. To do that, Mitsubishi will add to its U.S. product lineup, possibly adding a new vehicle at its Illinois factory.
The naming of Francis, 37, as the head of Oldsmobile last year created an interesting contrast. Here was stodgy Oldsmobile, in the process of rejuvenating its image, now being led by GM's youngest marketing general manager.
Francis, a Harvard MBA, joined GM in 1996 as brand manager for the Chevrolet Venture minivan. Before that she hawked office supplies as vice president of marketing for Berol Corp. She also worked as a brand manager at Procter & Gamble Co.
Oldsmobile sales are growing, prompted by new products and a changing customer base. Since 1996, the average age of its customers has dropped from around 60 to 50.
Under Francis, Oldsmobile is targeting customers even younger than that by sponsoring such events as beach volleyball, alternative music festivals and the 25th anniversary of 'Saturday Night Live.'