Last month's firing of Kia Motors America's top two executives had nothing to do with a cheeky new advertising campaign but everything to do with the desire by its new top official to clean house, sources close to the matter tell Ward's.
“When all this (firings) went down, Ahn (Byung-mo, KMA's newly appointed chairman, president and CEO) had never even seen that ad,” says a person familiar with events Feb. 8, when KMA CEO Len Hunt and marketing chief Ian Beavis were summarily dismissed.
“It hadn't even started running,” one source says.
The ad in question is a Kia TV commercial airing in the U.S. promoting a President's Day sale featuring a soap-on-a-rope replica of Millard Filmore, who the ad says is best known as the first president to have running water.
An earlier media report said South Korean executives who saw the TV spot didn't like it and generally found no humor in other lighthearted Kia advertising, as well, preferring Kia vehicles be presented in a serious manner.
Rumors about the ouster of Hunt and Beavis have been rampant, with one story claiming both were at the airport waiting to board a flight to the National Automobile Dealers Assn. conference in San Francisco last Friday when they were approached by a Kia executive.
Not true. Ward's, which broke the story on the firings, learns the two were contacted separately. KMA human resources executives met with the men individually in the Los Angeles area to inform them of their dismissal. Hunt was given the word at a local Starbucks.
Neither man was informed why he was being fired, says the source, refuting a rumor Hunt was punished for publicly detailing a disagreement with Korean management at a Kia dealer council meeting.
“The dealer council meeting was pretty straight forward,” he says, denying anything out of the ordinary occurred.
Contacted by Ward's, Beavis declined comment. Hunt could not be reached.
The executive firings came as no surprise to the source, who says the appointment of Ahn Feb. 4 as KMA chairman was a signal the U.S. division was ripe for a shakeup, noting Ahn's modus operandi is to dismiss top executives once he takes the helm.
The sudden firings of Hunt and Beavis follow a pattern. KMA CEO Peter Butterfield was fired in 2005 at a Kia dealer meeting.