Sales in a Slump, Cadillac Loses Another Key Executive

Global chief Ferguson returns to Washington as top lobbyist.

by on Jul.11, 2014

Cadillac's global chief Bob Ferguson with the 2015 Escalade during its NYC debut.

General Motors is looking for an executive to head up the Cadillac division, following the announcement that the luxury brand’s current leader Robert Ferguson has been named Senior Vice President, Global Public Policy.

It’s the latest in a string of top management departures for Cadillac, and comes at a critical time for the brand which is struggling to regain momentum as it rolls out key new products in a bid to reverse a sharp and unexpected sales dip.


A veteran Washington hand who spent 10 years in the nation’s capital as AT&T’s top lobbyist, Ferguson had spent only two years as Cadillac’s global chief. But his departure isn’t entirely unexpected, as he has been splitting his time between the luxury brand and a key role as part of the management team responding to the recall crisis that has engulfed GM since February.

Ferguson’s replacement at Cadillac will be named “later,” GM said.

Ferguson has split his time, in recent months, between Cadillac and serving as an advisor to GM CEO Mary Barra on recall issues.

In his new position, Ferguson will report directly to GM CEO Mary Barra and is responsible for GM’s federal, state and international government relations and public policy activities in the U.S. and its markets around the globe.  The appointment is effective immediately.

“We need Bob’s leadership and full focus on rebuilding relationships and instilling confidence in GM’s efforts to create a new industry standard for safety,” said Barra.  “As GM’s voice in critical policy issues, Bob will communicate a clear sense of purpose and collaborative spirit.”

(Cadillac muscles up with limited-edition CTS-V Coupe. Click Here to check it out.)

Ferguson joined GM in 2010, shortly after the maker emerged from bankruptcy. He was a familiar hand for Ed Whitacre, the one-time head of AT&T, who briefly served as GM Chairman and CEO following its run through Chapter 11. Whitacre’s successor – another telecomm industry veteran – Dan Akerson  appointed Ferguson head of the Cadillac Division in 2012 as part of a reshuffling of GM’s marketing operations.

The latest shake-up at Cadillac comes at a delicate time for the brand. Despite the launch of several well-reviewed new products, such as the compact ATS, and the redesigned CTS  and Escalade models, the division’s sales in the U.S. show signs of stalling out at a time when it is facing increasing competition from Asia and Europe.  Even its American rivals Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Ford Motor Co. are making major investments in luxury vehicles through their Alfa Romeo, Maserati and Lincoln brands.

GM also in the midst of ramping up sales of Cadillac in China where it is building a new assembly plant dedicated to the brand. Analysts expect the Chinese market will push past the U.S. in terms of overall luxury vehicle sales over the next half decade.

On the positive side, Cadillac’s global sales surged by 30% during  Ferguson’s tenture, highest among all full-line luxury brands, thanks to a successful launch in China. It is expecting to double sales there in two years.

(For more on Cadillac and GM’s strong gains in China, Click Here.)

But the concern is that Cadillac may begin to flounder following not only Ferguson’s departure but the loss, last month, of its sales chief Bill Peffer, who joined GM just last autumn. In fact, there has been a string of departures including the resignation last year of one-time GM wunderkind Susan Docherty, who had been serving as European sales chief for both Cadillac and Chevrolet – the latter brand pulling out of Europe entirely.

The list of losses at Cadillac also includes the brand’s former global strategic development chief Don Butler, who left the company last August, as well as Peffer’s predecessor Chase Hawkins, who was fired as sales chief for “violating a company policy.”

(For more on Cadillac’s executive brain drain, Click Here.)

Ferguson will depart Cadillac but will retain a critical post within GM. And it’s one he’s already familiar with. The 54-year-old executive joined GM in 2010 as Vice President for Global Public Policy and served in that position through October 2012. He is credited with helping GM strengthen its position on Capitol Hill in the wake of its controversial federal bailout, and with the industry’s many regulatory agencies, on a wide range of business challenges related to energy, tax, labor, and finance policy.

Prior to joining GM, Ferguson was at the business advisory and strategic communications firm Public Strategies, where he worked with a diverse and international group of clients as a senior strategist.

Before joining Public Strategies, Ferguson spent more than 10 years as an executive at AT&T, where he served as the president of state legislative and regulatory affairs and also as group president and CEO of SBC’s Enterprise Business Services.

From Washington, Ferguson also will serve as chairman of the GM Foundation and oversee the philanthropic organization’s contribution to the communities where GM employees live and work.

(Paul A. Eisenstein contributed to this report.)

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