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Struggling General Motors shakes up leadership again

By Dana Hedgpeth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 3, 2010; A13

General Motors said Tuesday that it is overhauling its North American sales operation by putting new executives in top positions.

The moves are the latest indication, auto industry analysts say, that Edward E. Whitacre Jr., who replaced Fritz Henderson as chief executive in December, is pushing for better results as he attempts to turn around the struggling automaker.

As part of the restructuring, GM North America President Mark Reuss will take responsibility for sales. He will replace Susan Docherty, a vice president who had headed both sales and marketing in the United States. Docherty will focus on marketing and report to Reuss.

Reuss said in a conference call that the changes were made because of concerns that GM was not meeting expectations.

"I could see clear as day that the mix and the structure of people just wasn't right," Reuss said. "These changes were necessary for GM to move faster and win. We need people who are change agents."

Automakers reported February sales Tuesday, and Ford outsold GM in the United States for the month, the first time since 1998. GM sales increased 11.5 percent, but analysts had expected more.

Whitacre was appointed last year as chairman of GM when the company went through a federally financed bankruptcy reorganization. Whitacre has made several changes to the company's executive team. In December, he became chief executive after Frederick "Fritz" Henderson resigned.

"About nine months ago, they started to make changes and started winding down brands, and now they've done that, and they're going back and doing organizational changes," said George Augustaitis, market analyst for CSM Auto, an auto forecasting firm. "Everyone expected this shake-up eventually. The idea is to bring in new blood and new ideas. In an old, large corporation when things aren't working, you have to shake up the system sometimes. This is a time when they're putting themselves out there to be a leaner company with fewer brands, and move forward."

Other changes at GM included: Alan Batey, who was managing director of GM's Holden operations in Australia, will head sales and service for Chevrolet, which is GM's largest brand; Brian Sweeney will remain as sales chief for Buick and GMC; Kurt McNeil, previously general sales manager at Chevrolet, was named to the Cadillac sales and service position; and Bryan Nesbitt, a designer who was running Cadillac, will return to GM's design operation.

The company also named marketing chiefs for Buick-GMC, Cadillac and Chevrolet. GM's top spokesman, J. Christopher Preuss, will become president of OnStar, the in-car communications service offered by GM.

The changes came on the heels of GM's announcement Monday night that it is recalling 1.3 million compact vehicles, including some models of the Chevrolet Cobalt and the Pontiac, because of problems with the power steering. When the motor fails, the car can be safely steered, the company said, but is harder to steer at lower speeds.

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