Former GM marketing czar Joel Ewanick was a team player, suggested CEO Dan Akerson, countering reports he was ousted for rogue behavior.
Ousted General Motors global marketing czar Joel Ewanick was no rogue operating outside the corporate playbook, GM Chairman and CEO Dan Akerson made clear during a conference call with industry analysts today.
It was the chief executive’s first comments on the sudden departure of 52-year-old Ewanick since the marketing chief was summarily shown the door by the giant automaker last Sunday. Though termed a “voluntary” resignation, subsequent comments by a GM spokesman – and speculation both inside and outside the company – has raised questions about whether Ewanick had committed a significant ethical breach that led to his summary termination.
During a call to discuss GM’s weak second-quarter earnings, Akerson and other officials made it clear that the company is not about to make any significant changes in the often-controversial marketing strategy laid out during Ewanick’s two years on the job.
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“What you saw in the marketplace was a thought-out strategy,” said Akerson, who added that Ewanick had operated as part of “a team,” and not as a free agent or cowboy.
(GM earnings tumble 40% during Q2. Click Here.)
The CEO declined to discuss the specific reasons for Ewanick’s departure, however. Insiders report that intense negotiations ended Sunday with the marketing executive allowed to bill the move as a resignation. But spokesman Greg Martin raised serious questions when he later stated that Ewanick, “failed to meet the expectations the company has of its employees.”
The rumor mill quickly went into overdrive, TheDetroitBureau.com receiving numerous, and clearly unsubstantiated, calls suggesting a serious ethical breach was committed. Other reports, widely circulated, have indicated Ewanick may have failed to follow proper channels in approving a mega-million-dollar deal with the wildly popular Manchester United soccer team, and a subsequent partnership with the Liverpool Football Club.
Both deals were signature moves for Ewanick, whom Akerson recently described as a “glass-breaker” willing to slaughter sacred industry cows. He terminated long-time partnerships with key ad agencies such as Campbell-Ewald, which had represented Chevrolet for more than half a century. He pulled GM out of the Super Bowl and denounced Facebook advertising days before the social media site’s closely watched IPO.
(For the original report on Ewanick’s ouster, Click Here.)
It’s no surprise, said a close friend of Ewanick’s, that “the long knives came out as soon as he was gone. Everyone wanted to help drag down his reputation now that he couldn’t fight back.”
Akerson’s comments don’t entirely solve matters. The question of why Ewanick was pushed out is still a mystery, though today’s 40% decline in GM earnings – coming a day after the maker reported a 6.4% decline in July sales while the overall market was up markedly – suggests that the real problem was Ewanick’s failure to deliver new customers. That, ultimately, is what a marketing chief is supposed to do.
Ewanick might have been “disruptive,” said analyst Rebecca Lindland, of HIS Automotive, but “disruptive doesn’t (necessarily) mean positive results.”
(For more on July sales, Click Here.)
GM’s market share has slipped by nearly two points compared to year-ago levels, at 18.1%. Rival Toyota has gained nearly two points during the same period – though that includes business it recovered after the disastrous production cuts it suffered in the wake of Japan’s March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
There has been some speculation that GM’s interim marketing chief Alan Batey – who appears to be the man to beat for a permanent assignment – might make some major changes in direction. But when asked if he might walk away from the Ewanick-approved “Chevy Runs Deep” ad tagline, or cancel plans to shift global GM advertising to a newly formed consortium called Commonwealth, Batey responded, “the simple answer is no.”
The fact that GM actually expanded the Manchester United relationship on Monday, the day after Ewanick’s departure, should have been a signal that the maker will hold to the status quo, at least for now.
“As I told you, this has nothing to do with our strategy,” continued Batey. “We are executing as per our plan. We have always been one team, and that continues. So you shouldn’t read anything into this that we didn’t announce, and there is nothing else to add to that. But are we changing strategy? Are we evaluating any of our partners? No.”
If any decision is likely to be reversed in the near-term, it is GM’s move to pull $10 million in advertising on Facebook. There have been numerous meetings between senior GM executives and their counterparts at Facebook, meetings that have gone all the way up the chain of command to GM CEO Akerson.
But Ewanick had telegraphed from the start that the Facebook ad cancellation would be reviewed, so this is no surprise.
“There is no change in direction,” Batey repeated during today’s call. “There’s no change in priorities.”