Mary Barra says GM is riding a wave of new products in North America

Article by Anita Panait, on February 11, 2014

While changes in the management at General Motors are understandable considering that it has a new Chief Executive Officer in Mary Barra, there are concerns, especially among dealers, that top changes on the carmaker’s sales organization could affect sales. Barra recently said that GM is "riding a wave of new products" in North America as it seeks to boost profitability and market share.

But taking charge of that responsibility are sales and marketing executive teams made up of new people. Just last week, GM named Brian Sweeney as sales chief of Chevrolet replacing the retiring Don Johnson. Taking over Sweeney’s job a GMC-Buick sales chief is Duncan Aldred, who has been leading Vauxhall.

Both Sweeney and Aldred will report to new US sales boss Steve Hill, who was also recently promoted to a new role after Barra took over as CEO.

Some dealers say the latest shuffle came just as the brands, armed with new products, should already be implementing their sales strategies.

"The changes can be a distraction. It makes it hard for dealers to buy into the go-to-market strategy," an owner of a Chevrolet dealership and a Buick-GMC store told Automotive News, adding that changes on a brand's top sales management would have a trickle-down effect on the field sales staff. Likewise, shuffling of top executives could pose a distraction for GM zone managers, district managers and sales reps.

Barra started at the US carmaker as a co-op student in 1980 at the age of 18. She then held a number of engineering and administrative positions, including as a manager of the carmaker’s Detroit/Hamtramck Assembly plant. In February 2008, Barra was tapped as Vice President of Global Manufacturing Engineering at GM. More than a year later, in July 2009, she was named as Vice President of Global Human Resources.

In February 2011, GM promoted her as Executive Vice President of Global Product Development.In December 2013, GM has appointed Barra as its CEO. She has been the carmaker's CEO since January 15, 2014.

Barra inherited an “entirely new” GM that has recently managed to stave off the stigma of being owned by the US government. In addition, the current GM now have an outstanding balance sheet, a clearer European strategy as well as a hit-making vehicle-development operation.

The first woman ever to lead a global carmaker, Barra would need to continue the work done by her predecessor Dan Akerson. In over three years of being GM’s top honcho, Akerson had been trying to disentangle the carmaker’s bureaucracy and revitalize its brands. Barra would also have to define a vision for GM, in which the carmaker can fully utilize its size as well as engineering prowess to outdo and outsell its rivals.

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