10 Men Steering a New Course for Detroit - Taking the Wheel

September 10, 2009
Bryan Nesbitt, General Manager, Cadillac
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Designer Bryan Nesbitt's ascension to general manager at Cadillac is the most shocking personnel move we've seen at General Motors since its emergence from bankruptcy. It suggests a return to the company's glory days, when designers wielded considerable power. The forty-year-old Nesbitt will report directly to Bob Lutz, with whom he has collaborated since the late 1990s, when they worked at Chrysler and turned out the PT Cruiser. Like Lutz, Nesbitt joined GM in 2001, when he took charge of Chevrolet design. Products that have seen his guiding hand in the intervening years include the Chevrolet HHR, the Chevrolet Malibu, the Pontiac Solstice, the Opel Insignia, and the Cadillac CTS coupe and wagon.
Fritz Henderson, President & CEO, GM
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When Henderson was promoted to president and chief operating officer in March 2008, it was a clear statement from Rick Wagoner that his successor had been chosen. What Wagoner couldn't have known was that it would be only a year before he'd be kicked to the curb by the Obama administration and Henderson would succeed Wagoner as CEO. Henderson has headed General Motors operations in Asia, South America, and Europe, where he championed a major restructuring through workforce reductions. Shaping up GM's entire global operations, though, will certainly be his most challenging chore yet.
Brent Dewar, CP, Chevrolet
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Dewar, who began his career at General Motors in 1978, takes the helm at Chevrolet after a stint overseas as European sales chief. Prior to that, he served in various sales and marketing positions and headed up Chevy's "American Revolution" ad campaign. His task will be to expand the bow-tie brand not only in the United States, where GM hopes it can shoulder 70 percent of the manufacturer's total sales (a 10 percent increase), but also throughout the rest of the world, where Chevrolet often means a rebadged Daewoo. Like Nesbitt, Dewar will report to vice chairman Bob Lutz.
Bob Lutz, Vice Chairman, GM
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Lutz seems determined to live up to the term "GM lifer." At seventy-seven years old, he's back onboard, just five months after announcing his planned retirement. Lutz said he returned to the reborn automaker after meeting with the government task force and hearing that GM would retain independence in product decisions and day-to-day operations. This time around, he takes responsibility for marketing, communications, and "all creative elements of products and customer relationships." It's a gig that he claims will give him more authority in dictating what vehicles are built and charges him with the daunting task of rebooting the reputations of GM and its remaining brands.
Tom Stephens, Vice Chairman, Product Development
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Stephens may have the most important job at GM. After all, this is a car and truck company, and Stephens's job is to usher products from idea to reality, with the right features, the right style, and the right price. It's a role that's part businessman, part engineer, and part crystal-ball gazer. Stephens has been with GM since 1969, most recently holding the title of VP for global powertrain and global quality. With half as many brands, GM will reduce its forty-seven nameplates to thirty-four by 2011, meaning that now, more than ever, every vehicle must be a hit.
Alan Mulally, President & CEO, Ford Motor Company
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Few people were excited when Mulally, formerly executive vice president of Boeing, took control of Ford in 2006. Enthusiasts decried his lack of industry knowledge. Business analysts wondered if he'd arrived too late to pull the ailing automaker out of its tailspin. His decision to mortgage essentially everything the company owned for $23 billion in loans was widely seen as an act of desperation.
Of course, Mulally is now viewed as the smartest executive in Detroit. His aggressive cost cutting and borrowing in 2006 and 2007 saved Ford when the credit markets froze last year, allowing the company to steer clear of the turmoil of government intervention and bankruptcy in 2009. And even car guys admit that under Mulally, who started out in 1969 as an aircraft engineer, Ford is turning out better products than ever.
Sergio Marchionne, CEO, Chrysler Group
0910 04 Z+sergio Marchionne+cEO Chrysler Group
If there's anyone capable of reviving Chrysler after its humbling collapse, it's probably Marchionne. The fifty-seven-year-old executive, who began his career as an accountant, took the reins at nearly dead Fiat in 2004. Within two years, the company was turning a profit. Looking for a similar turnaround with Chrysler, Marchionne has established seven-day work weeks for executives and a leadership hierarchy in Auburn Hills that mimics the Italian structure. A single executive is responsible for each individual brand's profit or loss performance.
Michael Manley, President & CEO, Jeep
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The Jeep name still holds plenty of credibility but has recently been plagued by the addition of ill-conceived products. As brand champion, Manley needs to ensure Jeep stays true to its heritage. In addition to his obligations with Jeep, Manley is the product planning chief for all Chrysler Group brands. With a stale product portfolio and little in the pipeline, Manley will need to work fast and without fault to rebuild the lineups. It remains to be seen if he's up to that task; until recently, Manley's experience has largely been in sales and operations.
Michael Accavitti, President & CEO, Dodge
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Accavitti is the lifer in this group, having worked with Chrysler since 1984. There are few bright spots in the Dodge lineup other than the Ram and the Challenger. That means Accavitti will have to reenergize Dodge with competitive small and mid-size cars and a worthy successor to the Charger, all while repolishing the brand's tarnished sporty image. The tie-up with Fiat should offer some interesting possibilities for Dodge sports cars over a broad price range. Accavitti is also responsible for all of Chrysler's marketing initiatives.
Peter Fong, President & CEO, Chrysler
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Chrysler has struggled through a product drought, with several models expiring, sometimes with no apparent replacement. The brand is down to just five current models, and two of those lines suffer from unsure production plans. As a leader, Fong needs to ensure that Chrysler is first in line for revolutionary product. Fong will also oversee sales for each of Chrysler's divisions. Following a career as a Navy pilot, Fong, who is an engineer by training, went to work for Ford, where until last year he was a regional operations executive.


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