Open letter to Ed Whitacre, new interim CEO of GM

I write about strategies to turn fans into customers and customers into fans. I also share ways to use real-time strategies to spread ideas, influence minds, and build business.

Social Media  |  New Rules of Marketing and PR

Dear Mr. Whitacre:

I was shocked to learn that Fritz Henderson was ousted this week as CEO by the GM board.

Having been critical of GM marketing and communications tactics in the past, I felt that Henderson was making great progress in this area.

I enjoyed my discussions with Henderson several months ago and felt confident since then that the marketing area was finally opening up to the immense power of the Web as a communications tool. Henderson understands new marketing and was an effective leader in this area.

Of course, I don't pretend that my narrow interest in how GM communicates to its customers is the only important thing for a CEO of GM. Based on press reports, you and the rest of the GM board had other issues of concern, such as your reported disagreement with Henderson on whether Vauxhall/Opel, GM's European division, should be sold. These are clearly things I know nothing about.

Qualifications of a CEO of GM

Now that you're in the process of searching for a new CEO, I urge you to require that the new CEO have an understanding of how people communicate online. I want to see the progress that Henderson has made continue. I hope the emerging culture of open and honest communications, especially online, will continue under whoever replaces Henderson.

Mr. Whitacre, with respect, this aspect is important for you to pay attention to because, from what I can discern, Web communications is beyond your comfort zone. According to BusinessWeek, while running some of the world's largest telecommunications companies, you didn't have a computer in your office and you didn't do email, preferring to write notes by hand or have letters typed by your secretary.

In addition, you most recently served as CEO of AT&T. In my limited experience, it would seem to me that AT&T has operated as a classic command and control organization. However, to succeed in the new world of always on, YouTube-driven, social media enabled, real-time marketing on the Web, a corporate culture of losing control is required.

As you interview candidates for the new role, I encourage you to ask questions and probe each person’s views and qualifications regarding the important new communications opportunities of the Web.

If the smart readers of this blog or me personally can be of any help to you in your search, please let us know.

Best regards,

David Meerman Scott
Author of The New Rules of Marketing & PR, a BusinessWeek bestseller published in 24 languages