LOS ANGELES -- Mazda's North American marketing boss has left the company.
Don Romano, chief marketing officer for Mazda North American Operations, resigned from his post, effective July 3, after 12 years with the automaker.
Romano was also the president of Mazda Canada Inc. Romano will be succeeded in that post by Shusuke "Kory" Koreeda, who had been executive vice president of Mazda Canada.
Romano's resignation was confirmed today by Jay Amestoy, Mazda's vice president of public affairs.
Romano, 51, is the highest-profile executive to leave Mazda since the automaker began restructuring its North American operations in March. On July 2, Mazda released 107 employees who accepted voluntary buyout packages. Offers that included separation pay, a lump-sum payment based on years of service, and assistance in locating a new job were extended to all of Mazda's of its 701 U.S. employees in March.
The circumstances surrounding Romano's resignation are unclear. Amestoy said there was "no connection" between the buyout offers and Romano's resignation, but he declined to elaborate.
A possible replacement for Romano as chief marketing officer of Mazda North American Operations would be the "subject of a future announcement," Amestoy said. He declined to elaborate.
Romano’s resignation came as a surprise to Mazda dealers contacted today by Automotive News.
“It’s really a shock,” said Randy Hiley, owner of three Mazda dealerships in Texas and Alabama. “He was really well respected and liked by the dealers in the United States and in Canada.”
Romano was tapped to oversee all Mazda marketing efforts in North America in the summer of 2010, in addition to running Mazda Canada. His big marketing task was steering the company’s transition to a single-agency structure for North America to replace the multi-agency setup in place at the time.
Under Romano’s watch, the company tapped WPP Group of London to form Team Mazda, a new agency to specifically handle Mazda’s advertising in the United States. The new agency replaced Mazda’s longtime relationship with independent agency Doner, which created Mazda’s “Zoom-Zoom” tagline.
The new agency created the launch campaign for the CX-5 compact crossover and ads for Mazda’s new Skyactiv technology, the umbrella term Mazda uses to market its new suite of fuel efficient direct injection engines, new transmissions, lightweight frame and chassis technologies.
“I’m personally disappointed that Don has left Mazda,” said Michael MacDonald, chairman of Mazda’s national dealer council and owner of two Mazda dealerships near Salt Lake City, Utah. “He was our regional manager here in the West and I think he was very forward-thinking and creative and he’s done good things for Mazda.”
Social media expertise
In January, Romano spoke on a panel that discussed social media issues at the 2012 Automotive News World Congress in Detroit. He discussed how companies should deal with bad news that goes viral, saying companies can minimize such problems by training and empowering employees to handle customer issues quickly and honestly.
"None of us are immune from these kinds of problems," he said at the event. "Just explain it. Customers are very forgiving if you're honest about a situation."
Mazda sold 143,797 vehicles in the United States in the first half of 2012, up 18 percent from last year.