It may be the shortest tenure of a marketing executive in the history of automotive marketing execs: Joel Ewanick, who left Hyundai to be Nissan's U.S. VP marketing in late March, has left the Franklin, Tenn. company to become U.S. marketing chief at General Motors.
General Motors says Ewanick will be VP, marketing for the U.S., effective May 24. He will report to Mark Reuss, president, GM North America. Ewanick will oversee positioning of Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac brands and work to bolster consumer consideration of GM vehicles in the United States.
Ewanick, 49, had been Hyundai Motor America's VP of marketing for the past three years, winning a number of marketing awards. Susan Docherty, 47, who had been VP of marketing at GM, is being reassigned, per the company.
A spokesperson at Nissan tells Marketing Daily that the news comes a complete surprise. "We are disappointed; we don't know how soon we will have anything to say about it," he says, adding that Ewanick officially resigned on Wednesday. "He came in to close the deal, so to speak."
A source close to Ewanick and the companies involved and who requested anonymity said Nissan was Ewanick's second choice after GM, but that the latter wasn't willing to make a space for him. "To his credit he said:'Screw it, I'm not going to sit here.'"
He adds that the data- and cost-driven Nissan would not have been a good fit for Ewanick, whose focus is ad creative. "Hyundai is also heading that way, which is why he left," he says. "GM never gave up on him; Mark Reuss was very high on him. But I think basically he had broken off discussions with GM because they weren't willing to reorganize marketing."
The source says GM is going to be a big challenge for Ewanick. "The Nissan job was bigger than anything he'd done, and GM is bigger by far than that. Ewanick is not really a natural delegator, and he's not strong on data. He's also not the big strategic thinker that a lot of people think he is. He's really focused on advertising," he notes, adding that GM's marketing problems are way beyond advertising.
"So what he needs to be able to do is bring someone in to head marketing in each of the four brands from outside, and very good digital marketing people. He's going to need some good left hands; that's really essential."
He says GM's biggest challenge is its main division, Chevrolet, which desperately needs an ad revamp and a new marketing strategy to bring it more visibility. "Anyone who knows something about marketing right now would be the right person for GM. He just has to fix Chevrolet and Cadillac. Chevy bankrolls the company. The product is very good, but their marketing sucks."
The source says Ewanick will need to hire people with a holistic view of each of GM's brands. "They will have to understand the portfolio management, and they will have to have people who flawlessly execute. Believe me, I'd rather have a good strategy perfectly executed than a perfect strategy poorly executed."
He says one thing that has made Jim Farley -- group vice president of global marketing and Canada, Mexico and South America at Ford -- so effective is that he got carte blanche to make big changes. "One would hope Joel has been given the same."