For 26 years, the General Motors operations that Dick Nerod ran made profits and increased sales. Then, in 1988, South America's economic problems broke the streak.
Nerod did not like it. As president of GM's Latin American, African and Middle East operations, he directed a cost-cutting exercise that halved losses in 1999. Now, he says, key Latin American markets such as Brazil are poised for recovery. But Nerod will not be around to start another profit streak. After 40 years with GM, the 62-year-old executive will retire in June. He will be succeeded by Fritz Henderson, 41, who is president of Ford do Brasil. A GM spokesman said a replacement for Henderson likely is to be named this month.
Despite the economic battering of the past two years, Nerod remains enthusiastic about prospects in South America.'Even with the rollback in '98-'99, the fastest-growing part of the world has been Latin America, Africa and the Middle East,' he said. 'Still, it's up over 100 percent in the 1990s. We see this year as being the first year of the recovery. We think that within three years, we'll be back up to the record high levels we had back in 1997.'
Nerod has specialized in overcoming obstacles since his first overseas assignment 36 years ago in Venezuela. In those pre-satellite days, he recalled, communication with the Detroit headquarters was minimal. Staffers had to solve problems by themselves. Nerod spent 28 years in 10 nations.
'They gave us some letters of credit and that was it,' he recalled. 'I was pretty much on my own. I got involved in everything from buying the furniture for the office to building a plant.'
At various time, Nerod held jobs in Singapore, Malaysia, Venezuela, Spain, Brazil and Mexico. He moved back to the United States in 19991 as vice president in charge of Latin American operations, and was named to his current post in 1998. His office is in Miami, Florida. Nerod also is a member of GM's automotive strategy board, which oversees global automotive operations.
Many GM executives got their overseas training in Nerod's operations, including company President Rick Wagoner, who calls Nerod 'an exceptional executive.'