Ron Zarrella, executive vice president and president, GM North America, has resigned to become chairman and CEO of Bausch & Lomb, Rochester, N.Y. Mr. Zarrella joined GM seven years ago from Bausch & Lomb where he was president.
His relationship with GM dealers has been controversial for much of his tenure, but showed signs of improving. Some of the initiatives under his watch – such as a plan for GM to buy and operate dealerships -- angered many dealers. Dealers were also frustrated with the elimination of the dealer ad associations and Mr. Zarrella’s love of brand management – a strategy that left many dealers wondering “Just what is the brand?”
The relationship became so rancid at times dealers would often describe Mr. Zarrella as being arrogant and unreceptive to criticism. According to NADA Chairman, Bob Maguire, GM dealers believed GM’s market share would not increase until Mr. Zarrella left the company.
There were signs, however, this year that Mr. Zarrella was intent on repairing the relationship. Bill Lovejoy, vice president of sales and marketing for GM, convinced Mr. Maguire to sit down and have dinner with Mr. Zarrella earlier this fall.
Mr. Zarrella’s first question at dinner was “How can I build bridges with the dealers?” According to Mr. Maguire, “Mr. Zarrella listened intently and asked probing questions. Ron showed he had come to some sort of crossroads personally.”
Mr. Zarrella also received nods of appreciation from many dealers for his quick action in developing the GM’s “Keep America Rolling” 0% financing program following the September 11 attacks.
Says H. Carter Myers III, NADA’s incoming chairman, “General Motors acted in a very unlike-General Motors manner. It acted decisively and that helped the dealers tremendously. The company has made a lot of improvement this year.”
As a result of Mr. Zarrella’s departure, Bob Lutz, vice chairman of GM Product Development, is now chairman of GM North America and Gary Cowger, group vice president of GM Manufacturing and Labor Relations, becomes president of GM North America.
Mr. Lutz will continue to focus on GM product development activities and team with Mr. Cowger to run North American operations. Mr. Cowger will be responsible for the day-to-day management of GM North America and work with Mr. Lutz on the business unit's strategic direction. In addition, he will remain the GM global process leader for Manufacturing.
“Bob and Gary give us a very strong North American leadership team with great experience and depth," says Rick Wagoner, GM President and CEO. "At the same time, I want to congratulate Ron Zarrella on this terrific opportunity at Bausch and Lomb. Ron has been a strong contributor at General Motors. He led an effective team that has transformed GM Sales and Marketing and brought about a heightened awareness of brand value to the entire industry. He oversaw the reorganization of just about every aspect of our operations. GM productivity and quality improved significantly during his time at GM. More recently, he deserves credit for reviving industry sales after the tragic events of September 11 by instituting our 'Keep America Rolling' campaign.”