7 January 2019

A new high-performance president with a purchasing past

Many industry observers, some might say cynics, have derided General Motors for being old-fashioned and unresponsive to market trends than Ford and Chrysler. People will cite the somewhat archaic and convoluted management structure and the generally higher age of executives in comparable positions to those at the other two of the erstwhile Big Three.

It has also been commented that many GM executives have come up through finance, marketing and sales routes, whereas Ford has prided itself on promoting more from engineering, manufacturing and purchasing, favouring those with shop floor and plant management experience.

The appointment of Mark Reuss to the President’s chair seems to be at odds with these observations. Indeed, under Mary Barra, the daughter of an engineer and herself an engineer, hierarchy policies at GM seem to have changed and Reuss’s new role is an obvious example. Interestingly, Lloyd Reuss, Mark’s father served as GM’s president from 1990-1992, a considerable contrast to Mary Barra’s father, Ray Makela, who worked for Pontiac for 39 years as a die maker.

Reuss has a background as a mechanical engineer, beginning his GM career as a student intern in 1983. Through his love of racing, he has championed several high-performance vehicle programmes and created and led the GM Performance Division in 2001 while serving as executive director of Architecture Engineering. The ‘halo’ car programmes he has contributed to have done GM’s sometimes stuffy image a lot of good, something that was sorely needed as Ford’s Mustang and various muscle cars from Chrysler were taking the performance limelight, and a lot of lucrative sales.

His most recent role has been as executive vice president, Global Product Development, Purchasing and Supply Chain, which he held from 2013 until last year 2018. His background augurs well for the inevitable shift that GM must make - from being a carmaker to becoming a personal mobility provider - with all the changes in vehicle technology, product development, purchasing, manufacturing, and profiting from the new ownership models that this will entail. As to Reuss’s love of racing, this will set him in good stead with the ‘car guys’ at GM; it will be much easier for him to persuade performance-obsessed engineers to consider alternative powertrains and systems if they believe that their boss has GM performance in his heart. And for suppliers, Reuss’s appointment is definitely good news. He has had good relationships with the supplier community and understands better than many executives the challenges that vendors face as the global mobility model changes.

Simon Duval Smith

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