Jim Schroer's first task at the Chrysler group will be to tackle a nagging problem: a reputation for lousy quality.
Chrysler CEO Dieter Zetsche hired Schroer and another top Ford Motor Co. marketing executive, George Murphy, last week in a dramatic move to shake up the company.
'We have to get a stronger position for our brands, for our products,' Zetsche said. 'Chrysler didn't do a lot to improve its quality image. In J.D. Power reports, Chrysler is ahead of GM and Ford, but that's not what you hear from customers on Chrysler quality.'
Boosting regard for the Chrysler group's quality is just one of many challenges facing Schroer, 49, as executive vice president of global sales and marketing. The group posted a loss of nearly $2 billion in the second half of 2000, and high incentives are propping up sales.
Cars, not crackers
But many dealers are leery of Schroer and Murphy because Ford recently adopted a dealer certification program, Blue Oval, which is widely opposed by Ford dealers.
Many Chrysler group veterans also are skeptical of the two newcomers because their backgrounds are in selling packaged goods.
'Selling cars and Triscuits are two different things,' said a Chrysler group dealer, who requested anonymity.
But Zetsche dismissed their fears.
'We have to get an outside perspective, experience from other industries,' Zetsche said. 'On the other side, I can't get someone from Coca-Cola or something like that. I need someone who knows the car industry. If I could have designed the guys on paper, this is who they would be.'
Schroer was on vacation and could not be reached last week.
He joined Ford in 1996 as executive director of marketing strategy and brand management and was appointed vice president of global marketing in June 1999. Before going to Ford, he was executive vice president of sales and marketing for RJR Nabisco Inc.
Schroer replaces Ted Cunningham, a victim of the sweeping U.S. management changes at the Chrysler group in November.
Murphy replaces Bud Liebler as the group's senior vice president of global brand marketing. Liebler left the company under an early retirement plan. Murphy had been Ford Division general marketing manager since March 1999.
From trust to loyalty
At Ford, Schroer created Trustmark, a corporate umbrella brand designed to foster trust in the company. Zetsche emphasized that Schroer will not copy that program at Chrysler.
Schroer will focus on loyalty, Zetsche said, and Chrysler will deliver new products to help.
'It's easier to keep customers with younger product,' he said. 'Then you have to do the right marketing and communication to get that across. It's expensive to conquest.'
Meanwhile, dealers are nervous about Schroer.
'We want to give him an opportunity, but we hope he doesn't bring any of Ford's Blue Oval ideas with him,' said Jerry Bowman, chairman of the Chrysler-Jeep National Dealer Council.
Schroer was not directly involved in Blue Oval, Ford's controversial dealer certification program designed to improve customer relations.
Bowman added, 'He's got to get some positive results so we can get some positive media and make the public understand that Chrysler is not going away.'
Schroer also will work closely with the Chrysler group's advertising agency, PentaMark Worldwide, a division of BBDO Worldwide.
Last November, Cunningham and Liebler led the switch from two advertising agencies, BBDO and FCB Worldwide, to one global agency. The two men planned to take seats on the board of directors of the new, Chrysler-dedicated division at the winning agency.
Schroer likely will join the board instead, potentially driving a new direction at PentaMark. Already in the works is a reorganization scheduled to start within two weeks, said a source at PentaMark, who asked to remain anonymous.
PentaMark consists of three units: BBDO Detroit, which handles the creative work; PentaCom, which handles media planning and buying; and InterOne Marketing Group, which handles customer relations marketing.
Under the reorganization, those units will no longer exist, the source said. PentaMark will operate by brand - Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge and corporate. For example, all of the people who work on the Dodge brand, from copywriters to media buyers, will be grouped together.