GM to Marketing Chief: "Surprise! You're Fired"

Joel Ewanick
In the auto business, shocking news rarely arrives on Sunday. But this past Sunday was an exception, when General Motors (GM) announced the sudden resignation of its very high-profile marketing chief, Joel Ewanick.

With a $4.5 billion budget, GM is one of the world's biggest buyers of advertising, rivaled only by giants such as Coca-Cola (KO) and Procter & Gamble (PG). Managing and coordinating all of GM's marketing efforts all around the world is a huge job. But the outspoken Ewanick seemed to have it all under control -- until Sunday.

A Major Figure in GM's Turnaround

Officially, according to GM, Ewanick "failed to meet the expectations the company has for its employees" -- in this case, failing to properly review the financial details of a new sponsorship deal for soccer in Europe.

That could be a serious oversight, and it's hard to tell for sure without knowing the details. But it doesn't necessarily seem like enough to get a well-regarded executive fired.

The trouble was, Ewanick wasn't well regarded in all quarters.

It's true that he had spearheaded a major global rethink of GM's ad purchasing and made changes that are expected to save the company $2 billion over the next five years. But he'd also made enemies, with his sharp-tongued reviews of marketing proposals, cheeky ads that taunted key competitors including Ford (F), and abrupt and arguably ill-timed decisions, such as pulling GM ads off of Facebook (FB) right before the social-media company's IPO.

Worst of all for a marketing whiz, his signature campaign -- "Chevy Runs Deep" -- wasn't resonating with customers. That, not the soccer deal, may have been Ewanick's real downfall.

Raising Standards at General Motors

GM CEO Dan Akerson might well have forgiven a prickly style -- and he was full of praise for Ewanick just a few weeks ago -- but a failure to generate results just won't fly in Akerson's buttoned-down, post-bankruptcy GM.

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GM's U.S. market share has fallen sharply, to just 18.1% in the first half of 2012 -- down from almost 20% a year ago. Combined with the company's ongoing troubles in Europe, that has taken a lot of the wind out of GM's turnaround sails and has hit the automaker's stock price hard.

Akerson is a sharp leader with a clear vision for GM. A former U.S. Navy officer, Akerson believes that restoring GM to greatness is his civic duty -- and he isn't known for his patience. Just a few weeks ago, he abruptly removed the well-regarded head of GM's European operation, Karl-Friedrich Strasse.

Why? Rumor has it that Strasse was canned because the turnaround plan he proposed wasn't bold enough. It didn't measure up to Akerson's standards.

Apparently, when all was said and done, Ewanick didn't, either.

At the time of publication, Fool contributor John Rosevear owned shares of Ford and General Motors. The Motley Fool owns shares of Ford. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Ford and General Motors and have recommended creating a synthetic long position in Ford.

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