President Bush began reshaping his economic team for a second term yesterday by nominating Carlos M. Gutierrez, the Cuban-born chief executive of the Kellogg cereal company, to replace Bush's friend Donald L. Evans as secretary of commerce.
The selection of Gutierrez, one of the nation's most prominent Hispanic corporate executives, was the opening move of what administration officials said will be a near-total remake of Bush's economic team over the next few months.
Bush, who smiled broadly as he presented his surprise choice in the White House's Roosevelt Room, called Gutierrez "a great American success story" and said he "will take office at a time of historic opportunity for our changing economy."
"With Carlos's leadership, we'll help more Americans, especially minorities and women, to start and grow their own small business," Bush said.
Administration officials said Bush and senior adviser Karl Rove believe their economic lineup was a shortcoming of the first term and are determined to seat a stronger team to sell Congress on Bush's campaign promises to add private accounts to Social Security and rewrite major portions of the tax code.
As part of the White House's desire to signal a fresh start on economic policy, Gutierrez is the first of the four Cabinet members Bush has named since his reelection who is not a White House aide. In choosing Gutierrez, the president passed up an ally described by aides as the original front-runner for the job -- Mercer Reynolds, a Cincinnati businessman who was partners with Bush in the Texas Rangers baseball team and finance chairman of the president's $255 million reelection campaign.
Republicans said more than half the Cabinet will turn over before Bush is finished. Gutierrez, whose appointment continues Bush aides' aggressive courting of Hispanics, is an unusual choice because Bush does not know him well and the post has traditionally gone to confidants of presidents. The nomination now goes to the Senate for confirmation.
Speaking briefly after Bush, Gutierrez said he left Cuba as a political refugee in 1960, joined Kellogg Co. of Battle Creek, Mich., by selling cereal out of a van in Mexico City, and became Kellogg's president and chief executive in 1999. He said his experience shows him that Bush's vision of an "ownership society" is "real, and I know it's tangible."
Bush noted during the 10-minute ceremony that Gutierrez learned English from a bellhop at a Miami hotel. "At every stage of this remarkable story, Carlos motivated others with his energy and optimism and impressed others with his decency," the president said.
Although virtually unknown in Washington, Gutierrez turned Kellogg into a corporate titan and Wall Street darling through smart deals, strict fiscal management and a shift of focus from peddling cereal by the ton to selling higher-end products.
Many people had indicated an interest in being commerce secretary, but White House officials said they sought out Gutierrez instead of the other way around. The officials said Bush had met Gutierrez on a few occasions over the past few years and had always been impressed with him. They met two weeks ago at the White House and Bush made the decision early last week at his Texas ranch, the officials said. Gutierrez informed his board on Friday, but word did not leak.
Bush aides said that in addition to Gutierrez's inspiring immigrant's story, they see his background in sales as a crucial credential, since Bush has used his economic team primarily to promote the White House agenda rather than to make policy. Officials familiar with the search process said that, Gutierrez notwithstanding, the White House has found it harder to attract a top-flight team because some candidates are unwilling to give up lucrative posts to come to Washington to be White House cheerleaders.
One economist, who was rumored to be up for a position on the Council of Economic Advisers, said he could not take a job that has been steadily pushed to the sidelines over the past two years. "You can't be attracted to a job where you'd be out of the loop," he said.
A top White House official disputed that, saying: "The idea we can't recruit people to serve because they don't want to be cheerleaders is absolutely wrong."