“When should our CEO be our spokesperson?”
Almost never, is the usual response. Almost.
Our counsel on this subject usually is based on the notion that invoking the “CEO Rule,” or having the CEO serve as the central spokesperson on an issue, leaves no fallback option. Generally speaking, it is strategically sound to tab a spokesperson who is “senior enough” to garner the needed credibility without exposing the company’s chief executive to the negative attributes of an issue.
This philosophy applies in nearly all cases. But not when we are speaking of General Motors.
Due to a sequence of events (the specifics of which we won’t get into here) that unfolded over several decades, those now tasked with guiding this iconic American brand through uncharted territory really had no choice but to invoke the CEO Rule.
General Motors CEO Ed Whitacre now is the central character in the GM saga, the latest act appearing as a television advertising campaign in which Whitacre mentions the early repayment of the government’s bailout funds and a 60-day money-back guarantee.
The list of chief executives who have put themselves out front and pulled their companies back from the corporate disaster precipice is short. Tylenol’s James Burke and Chrysler’s Lee Iacocca are two prime examples. It is hard to recall many others.
Perhaps Ed Whitacre will join Burke and Iacocca on that list. For the good of the hundreds of thousands of employees of GM and other companies that rely on GM for their livelihood, I hope so.