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Bill George

Harvard Business School Professor, former Medtronic CEO

GM Borrows a Page from the Iacocca Playbook

Hats off to Ed Whitacre.  He has officially taken ownership of General Motors.  Much like Lee Iacocca at Chrysler in the 1980s, Mr. Whitacres’s face is now stamped on the GM brand with his upcoming TV spots.

I have been highly critical of GM leadership in the past, and with good reason.  But this campaign is a good decision.  The ad is candid, challenging, and optimistic.  Will this sell more cars?  That’s difficult to say.  But it’s the right step towards rebuilding the GM brand.

The accountability is there.  Whitacre admits, “Before I started this job, I’ll admit, I had some doubts.”  So did we, Mr. Whitacre.  Not about your personal ability, necessarily, but about the viability of GM.  We still do.  Kudos for addressing the elephant in the room though.

The challenge is there.  “I just know that if you get into one of our cars, you are going to like what you see.”  American consumers love a good “test-our-product” campaign (see: Pepsi Challenge, Tide’s 100-wash guarantee, etc.).  Test-drivers are revving their engines.

The reassurance is there.  “So we’re putting our money where our mouth is.  Buy a new Chevy, Buick, GMC, or Cadillac, and if you’re not 100% happy, return it.  We’ll take it back.”  A cynic might argue that he’s actually puttingour money where their mouth is, but that’s neither here nor there.  The forthright confidence and reassurance is pervasive.

The crux of this ad is a straightforward Ed Whitacre, with his disarming southern drawl, putting his reputation on the line and his face on his brand.  The best companies do this.  Steve Jobs stands behind Apple.  Howard Schultz stands behind Starbucks.  Warren Buffett is Berkshire Hathaway.  How are GM’s cars?  The jury is still out.  But thanks to Ed Whitacres’s ad, I am warming up to its leadership.