Nick Reilly was General Motors' global dealmaker, market expander and troubleshooter before he retired. Now he has to watch as GM withdraws from key markets he helped shape, knowing he'd be charting a different course.
"I've been involved with the global automotive industry all my life and to make it not global anymore is not the way I would have done it," Reilly, 68, told Automotive News at a recent event held by the UK's automotive manufacturers association, the SMMT, in London.
The big loss for Reilly is Europe, which GM left earlier this year after selling its Opel/Vauxhall operations to PSA Group. Reilly started his automotive career at GM in his home country of the UK in 1975 and finished it 36 years later as president of GM Europe, a job that was thrust on him at the height of the financial crisis in 2009 after eight years building markets in Asia.
"People do forget that not so many years ago the European operations for GM were keeping the rest of the world alive," he said.
In recent years GM has pulled out of or sharply reduced operations in not just Europe but also Russia, Indonesia and Thailand, a strategy that goes against Reilly's instincts to balance cyclical market volatility with a good global spread.
"The risk of narrowing is that if you have a problem with one of your main markets, China or U.S., you're in trouble," he said. Reilly also oversaw GM's purchase of Daewoo in South Korea, a business that's likewise looking vulnerable as it loses its key European export market and GM increasingly develops small cars in China instead.
He admits that the pressures on GM have changed since he retired in 2011. "I'm sure they would say that [their strategy] is not short-term at all," he said. "I'm not the one to say whether it's right or wrong. I'm watching it all with some interest but also some emotion."