DETROIT -- Troy Clarke might consider thanking - or blaming - the UAW for his new job as president of General Motors' North American unit.
Last week, CEO Rick Wagoner relinquished North America to Clarke, 51. He had been president of GM's Asia Pacific region for the past two years.
The move surprised some industry observers and even a few insiders, who had not considered the GM veteran a contender for the post.
But Clarke's role as head of GM's team in its 2003 contract negotiations with the UAW gave him an edge at a time when GM faces tense negotiations with the union. Clarke likely will find his labor expertise provides more leverage than a regional president otherwise might hold in GM's new global power structure.
GM says Clarke will work closely with Wagoner in carrying out the North American turnaround plan and overseeing day-to-day U.S. operations. GM lost $8.24 billion in North America last year and $462 million in the first quarter of this year.
But Clarke's new job is much more challenging than just being Wagoner's wingman.
GM runs engineering, purchasing, manufacturing and product development globally. Regional presidents resemble U.S. division heads who focus on sales, marketing and dealer relations. GM's four regions are North America, Europe, Asia Pacific and Latin America-Africa-Middle East.
In this case, Clarke's role will be enhanced by his background in labor and manufacturing.