GM CEO can't wait to trash his departed CMO's reputation

The earth had barely begun to settle, so to speak, over the grave of ousted GM world chief marketing officer Joel Ewanick’s career when his former boss, CEO Dan Akerson, started speaking ill of the dead.

First, in announcing the axing on Sunday, July 29, an official spokesman claimed it was because Ewanick had “failed to meet the expectations the company has of its employees.”

Speaking ill of the dead

Spokesmen don’t say things like that without express C-level approval.

Then, GM leaked to industry publications, including Ad Age, that Ewanick lost his job over “a botched sponsorship deal with English soccer club Manchester United that might have cost GM upwards of $600 million, according to Reuters.” As a rule, leaks like that don’t originate without C-level approval.

Finally, in an August 2 earnings report conference call to analysts and reporters, Akerson did his best to negate Ewanick’s role in the past two years’ marketing, claiming it was all “a group effort, not a one-man operation,” according to Rich Thomaselli writing in Ad Age.

“Just to be clear,” Akerson said, “no one individual — I know a lot of public views this as a personality-driven industry. It’s a team effort. What you saw in the marketplace was a thought-out strategy that was agreed upon as a team.”

Maybe Akerson was taking a leaf from the book of the CEO of GM’s largest (26%) stockholder (i.e., the United States government) and saying that Ewanick didn’t build that.

Defeat has a father

“Victory has a thousand fathers,” John F. Kennedy said in the wake of the 1962 Bay of Pigs fiasco, “but defeat is an orphan.”

And Government Motors has had more than its share of defeats.

“Most of our metrics were not favorable compared to a year ago,” Akerson declared, “and that is unacceptable.”

“Unacceptable” may be gross understatement.

“GM has lost almost two full points of U.S. new-vehicle market share since last year,” Thomaselli writes, “and its first-half sales were only up 4% at a time when the U.S. auto industry as a whole was up 15% from January through June, compared with the same time period a year ago…[many] have speculated that Mr. Ewanick was let go because the advertising wasn’t working.”

But if the advertising that wasn’t working was the product of what Akerson called “a thought-out strategy that was agreed upon as a team,” what makes Ewanick the father?

Haste the man, love his policies

What’s more, if Ewanick “failed” so badly “to meet the expectations the company has of its employees,” why is Akerson perpetuating his “failures”?

“The fundamental approach is, no change,” CFO Dan Ammann stated in the August 2 conference call. “The consolidation of agency spend, all the things we did with our media buy, those are all very real drivers of efficiencies and we’re absolutely going to continue with those.”

Slow revival or fast implosion?

In claiming GM was slowly reviving, Akerson went on to make some statements that were of a piece with the meretricious, misleading, half-truth-filled advertising that Ewanick — oops, the team — presided over.

“GM has now achieved 10 consecutive quarters of profitability,” he proclaimed, “which is a milestone the company has not achieved in more than a decade.”

What he didn’t say is that it’s also a big drop in profitability.

The company made a profit the second quarter, but that was 41% less of a profit than the previous one.

“America’s largest automaker made $1.5 [billion] in the second quarter of 2012, compared with $2.5 [billion] for the same period last year,” reports the Guardian. “Revenue fell to $37.6 [billion] from $39.4 [billion] in the second quarter of 2011.”

Forecast earnings of 74ยข a share are down 52% from a year ago.

The GM stock that the government bought with taxpayer money at $33 a share — stock that would have to rise to $53 to pay off the bailout — is selling at just $20.02 as of this writing.

In his conference call, Akerson attributed all this not to bad decisions, not to tunnel-vision group-think, not to sheer incompetence, but to “the headwinds we face.” In this, too, he sounds like the president of his company’s largest shareholder.