"As a dealer, I rely on them to build cutting-edge products with great safety, great fuel economy, great quality and great warranty," Wilson said. "I don't feel like it's my business who they put in as their top person. Nobody stays there for a long time, whether they're Korean or American."
The continual churn at the top might seem to outsiders like a sign of turmoil, but it's normal for Korean corporations, says one former auto executive who's familiar with the inner workings of Hyundai Motor Group. At a Korean corporation such as Hyundai, the family owners can stick around for a long time, but nonfamily C-suite execs typically don't hold those spots for more than four to five years.
"I think Hyundai's success matters less about the longevity of the CEO of Hyundai Motor America, and matters much more on product mix and alignment with sales and production targets," the former executive said. "There's too much emphasis placed on the revolving door at the top of Hyundai Motor America."
Hyundai routinely shuffles executives toward the end of the year, promoting some while demoting others to affiliates such as its Hyundai Mobis Parts operation. After years of cycling through different positions, the Korean execs build a broad knowledge base that meshes with Hyundai's preference for having generalists at the top.
William Lee fits that bill. He recently assumed leadership of the new North America unit, which Hyundai says will provide "greater integration across the entire region to actively respond to evolving market trends and customer needs."
Before that, he headed Hyundai Motor Brazil and also led international sales at Hyundai Motor Co. in Seoul.
He's also familiar with the U.S., having led the creation of ad agency Innocean USA in 2009 and run overseas sales for Hyundai Mobis Parts, which is based in San Francisco.