GREAT OPPORTUNITY? Well known automaker seeks self-starter who likes fixer uppers. Retail automotive experience preferred. Plenty of risks and rewards. Candidate must be highly motivated, self-confident and have a high threshold for pain. Combat experience, bulletproof vest, rich spouse and/or day job to fall back on are advisable. Interested parties should have their heads examined.
Finbarr O'Neill's departure as CEO of Mitsubishi Motors North America after just 16 months on the job hammers home the point: Mitsubishi is in trouble and its survival is questionable.
Like a good soldier, 61-year-old Rich Gilligan has stepped in to replace O'Neill as CEO. As Gilligan, a manufacturing executive who ran Mitsubishi's assembly plant in Normal, Ill., must know or will shortly find out, being CEO of Mitsubishi Motors North America is a dirty job, but somebody has to do it.
Let's face it; the CEO must confront major challenges: The parent company in Japan says its U.S. dealers ought to be selling 500,000 cars and trucks a year, so the factory needs to foist cars off on America. Dealers are disillusioned. Customers are turned off. U.S. sales were down nearly 40 percent last month and more than 37 percent for all of last year, bottoming out at 161,609. That's less than half the peak total of 345,111 sold in 2002 and the lowest annual volume since 1989 when Dick Recchia was still running the show.
Even the most bullish dealers are getting a little skittish about taking on inventory, despite a new round of retail incentives that whack the price of a new Mitsubishi by as much as $6,000.
Rich Gilligan is no shrinking violet. When times got tough in Normal, he had to lay off 40 percent of his work force. But by comparison, Mitsubishi's retail challenges are complex and life-threatening.
In case Gilligan decides being CEO is only going to be a short-term gig, Mitsubishi bigwigs in Tokyo ought to start building a file of possible successors.
If Superman isn't available to save the day, maybe the headhunters can find well-known sewer worker Ed Norton, because the honeymoon is over, and it looks like Mitsubishi really is circling the drain.