Docherty Latest GM Exec to Exit From Europe

Europe becoming a sinkhole for senior GM managers.

by on Jun.24, 2013

European chief Susan Docherty shown during a recent product preview.

Europe has become a sinkhole for once-promising senior General Motors executives – claiming a number of top managers in recent months including one-time Chevy Volt powertrain overseer Mickey Bly, and now Susan Docherty, who had been spearheading efforts to turn Chevrolet and Cadillac into major players in the European market.

Docherty, president and managing director of Chevrolet and Cadillac Europe, has announced she plans to leave General Motors “to spend more time with her family.”

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The parting is an amiable one, according to GM insiders, who noted that the Canadian-born Docherty will remain at her post until September 30. If Docherty was leaving for another job, her departure from GM would have been immediate, they noted. A successor for Docherty will be named at a later date, GM officials said.

“After almost three decades at this great company, working at an incredible pace in markets around the world, I’ve decided to take a break, invest time in my family and chart a new course for my career,” said a statement from Docherty. “I leave with incredible memories and valued friendships with high hopes for GM’s continued success.”

In her current role, Docherty initiated a restructuring of the business while growing Chevrolet’s market share in 2012 in a challenging European market. In addition, she has been a guiding force in helping the company redefine the positioning of the Chevrolet brand in GM International Operations.

She also had been given the added job of re-positioning Cadillac, now GM’s fastest growing brand, for a sales push into Europe.

Docherty’s impending departure took most observers by surprise – though she and GM have found the going much tougher in Europe than expected. The Chevrolet brand, in particular, had tried to position itself as the low-cost alternative to the more mainstream Opel marque.  Initial response was positive but it has recently slipped more sharply than the rest of the European market – even though customers there have been downgrading their purchases in light of the Continent’s ongoing economic crisis.

Cadillac, meanwhile, has also been struggling to make this, its latest attempt to challenge established luxury marques like BMW and Mercedes-Benz finally take hold.

Even so, Docherty has generally received good marks for her work.

“With more than 27 years of GM service, Susan has been instrumental in many of our sales and marketing initiatives,” noted GM Vice President, Global Manufacturing, and President, International Operations Tim Lee. “She has helped build the equity of our brands and reach our customers in new and innovative ways.”

Docherty has had a wide and varied career with GM and was working in China before yanked suddenly over to Europe.  Prior to that, she held a series of marketing sales position that had placed her in the front lines during GM’s sales decline prior to the 2009 bankruptcy. She also headed up GM’s western sales region, an increasingly important testing ground for sales executives from GM, Ford and Chrysler. Docherty was selected by GM for a Sloan Fellowship and completed her master’s degree at Stanford University.

After the GM bankruptcy, she was one of the key executives promoted to help lead the company turnaround and comeback.

“Susan has been a tireless promoter of our company and brands,” said Lee. “We appreciate her dedication and creativity and wish her continued success.”

Over the last several years, a steady stream of General Motors executives have either been ousted or taken retirement as the maker has struggled to reverse more than a decade of multi-billion-dollar losses in the European market. Along with Docherty, Mickey Bly, a well-respected manager who played a key role in the Chevy Volt program has left the company – though GM officials won’t discuss the details of his departure after only a few months in Europe.

The troubles in Europe are so severe, and the potential damage to a career reputation so significant that designer Dave Lyon decided to tender his own resignation last year before even moving to Europe where he was supposed to be design chief.

Paul A. Eisenstein contributed to this report.

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