I wish incoming Mazda Motor Corp. President Mark Fields had been at the press conference where General Motors announced its purchase of a stake in Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd.
He would have realized then, if he doesn't already, the depth of the problem he will face trying to run Mazda.
Fields, a 38-year-old marketing whiz, goes into his new job with two strikes against him in Japanese eyes: his youth and his background. Neither should keep him from being an excellent president. But each means he will be on probation for a while with the Japanese public, and perhaps even with Mazda's Japanese employees.
Marketers, just like engineering 'car guys' and finance 'bean counters,' can make great auto executives. Proof: Lee Iacocca. But it helps if their subordinates, the company's suppliers, and a host of other stakeholders truly appreciate the value of superb marketing. Japan doesn't.
Five days before Fields became Mazda's new president, GM President Rick Wagoner and Fuji President Takeshi Tanaka explained to the press why GM bought 20 percent of Fuji.
They wheezed on and on about how GM would get access to Fuji's technology. They bragged about Fuji's all-wheel-drive powertrains and its continuously variable transmissions, or CVTs.
Baloney. GM already makes four-wheel drive vehicles, if you haven't noticed. Moreover, GM is developing its own CVTs for larger engines. If GM decided it couldn't wait, it could readily buy the CVTs from Jatco TransTechnology Ltd., the Nissan spin-off that is eager to find new customers.
Perhaps I'm too harsh. General Motors does get something from Fuji's CVT operations. Arvin Mueller, GM's powertrain czar, said, 'The breakthrough needed in CVT is a stronger supplier base.' Fuji has that.
In the entire press conference, Wagoner said the word 'brand' only once. Tanaka never uttered it. Yet that is what really drove the GM-Fuji deal. Fuji makes Subaru cars, and Subaru is a gem of a niche product brand.
GM bought a share of Subaru - and took Fuji in the bargain - for all the same reasons that Ford bought Volvo's car business.
In the technology race, Subaru and Volvo may be a bit ahead of their rivals. In the brand race, those two companies stand out, and that gives them a major advantage.
But the Japanese don't get it. They understand technology, so they wanted to believe that GM bought Fuji for its technology. They don't understand brands, branding, or the power of marketing, so they couldn't appreciate what Subaru really had to offer.
That is the mind-set Fields faces. Mazda already has made great strides in improving its brand image in Japan, the United States and elsewhere. It will continue to do so.
If Fields had another year as top dog of marketing, maybe he could have proven to his troops how brand management improves sales and profits. But he didn't have that chance. Now he's going to have to do a little on-the-job educating to get Mazda's troops to understand why he's the most qualified person for the job.
I wish him well.