General Motors’ Joel Ewanick, who was recently praised by his boss for his willingness “to challenge the status quo of the corporation,” evidently pushed it too far. He “elected to resign immediately” as global CMO, according to a statement released yesterday. The reason, a spokesman tells the Detroit News’ David Shepardson, is "because he failed to meet the company's expectations of an employee of the company."
"He's full of energy and vim and vigor and comes across as a glass breaker," GM CEO Dan Akerson told the Wall Street Journal just two weeks ago, stating the obvious -- as anyone who has worked with, for or against Ewanick will testify. But sources tell Sharon Terlep and Suzanne Vranica that the breaking point came when he failed to “properly vet the financial details of a European soccer-sponsorship deal that he struck recently.”
Reuters UK is reporting that “Ewanick failed to properly report financial details about a recent sponsorship deal between GM's mass-market Chevrolet brand and the world's most popular football club, Manchester United.”
When that five-year sponsorship was announced in May, Forbes’ Hannah Elliott wrote, “this deal isn’t about Europe. It’s about the world,” pointing out that the club has more than 650 million “members” worldwide and is worth more than $1 billion. GM also recently announced its sponsorship of the Chevrolet China Cup, a further attempt to “accelerate Chevy’s identification as a worldwide rather than just a U.S. marquee,” as Forbes’ Dale Buss puts it.
"One of my jobs is to make sure people don't relax, to keep the tension high," Ewanick told the WSJ in a recent interview. "I don't mean to hurt people, but everything matters now and we have to be great."
There was, of course, a method to Ewanick’s madcapness. Goodby, Silverstein & Partners co-founder Jeff Goodby admits that disruptive style spurred the agency to do better work.
Ewanick had been reorganizing GM’s global ad budget, a process that is intended to save about $2 billion over the next five years.
“Last spring, he moved the account for Chevrolet's creative work from dozens of agencies globally to just one firm, Commonwealth of Detroit,” Mike Colias reports in Automotive News. “He also put all of GM's media buying duties under London-based Aegis' Carat unit, ending its work with dozens of smaller agencies.”
Among other headline-grabbling moves Ewanick instigated, GM said it would sit out the 2013 Super Bowl broadcast and it stopped advertising on Facebook -– an announcement made just before the latter’s IPO (although it says it’s reconsidering that decision). Those curveballs reportedly caught even Ewanick’s colleagues off guard.
Ewanick ruffled feathers at Ford with a Super Bowl 2012 ad that showed a few Chevy Silverado drivers who had survived an apocalypse. “Where’s Dave?” asks one. Turns out he was driving a Ford pickup –- a direct reference to the rival that Ewanick reportedly inserted himself. He also snubbed Ford’s cease-and-desist order, instead going public with it. "We can wait until the world ends, and if we need to, we will apologize," he said at the time.
Officially, GM was mum about the specific reasons for Ewanick’s departure, leaving other media outlets to suggest that lagging sales, despite (or perhaps because of) all of the upheaval, also might have something to do with it.
The New York Times’ Bill Vlasic points out that the automaker’s U.S. market share in the first half of 2012 fell to 18.1% from 19.9% during the same period in 2011. Sales were up 4.3% but that’s against an overall 14.8% surge in the industry.
The well-traveled Alan Batey, currently GM's vp of U.S. sales and service, has been named as Ewanick's “interim” replacement.
“They have to get back into the car business, meaning small cars versus trucks and SUVs,” TrueCar.com analyst Jesse Toprack tells Bloomberg’s Tim Higgins. “Batey’s experience around the globe really has been mostly about making smaller vehicles. They probably they think having that experience will pay off as they try rebalance their mix in the U.S.”
“It has been a privilege & honor to work with the GM Team and to be a small part of Detroit's turnaround," @JoelEwanick said Sunday in a Twitter post. "I wish everyone at GM all the best." As he presumably did at Hyundai, where his acumen is credited for turning around the also-ran, as well as at Nissan North America, where he spent all of two months, before joining GM in May 2010.
In the meantime, he’ll have some time to enjoy Manchester United, whose Premier League season opens Aug. 20, and doodle with a personal Facebook page before, no doubt, landing on his feet somewhere else.