Pops’ Rants: GM’s Decision to Fire Johan De Nysschen Might Have Been a Big Mistake
You can’t become successful over nightby Pops, on
Cadillac just fired president Johan de Nysschen, four years after it brought him in from Infiniti to revive the luxury brand. The news made headlines all over the world and sparked debates on whether the brand will do better without de Nysschen. The consensus seems to be that he made a string of bad decisions and that Steve Carlisle might be the man who will make things right. Well, I disagree.
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De Nysschen Knows How to Grow a Brand
Audi's market share in the U.S. nearly doubled under De Nysschen's tenure
De Nysschen had the crucial job to rebuild Cadillac, a brand that spent its most recent decades releasing mediocre cars, into the luxury force that it was until the 1970s. And he knows how to do that. De Nysschen led Audi’s American division between 2004 and 2012, during which it turned it from an automaker than barely touched BMW and Mercedes-Benz into one of the leading premium marques in North America. Audi’s market share in the U.S. nearly doubled under his tenure and the German brand is now a big player in most segments thanks to De Nysschen.
Before joining Cadillac, the South African-born spent two years at Nissan, heading Infiniti. He was behind the company’s product expansion plans, oversaw many debuts, and also introduced the current Q-based model naming structure. De Nysschen also laid the foundation for a performance division with the Q50 Eau Rouge concept, but the project was canned when he left the brand.
His work at Cadillac began with moving the company’s headquarters to New York City for different exposure and more independence from General Motors. The move was backed by aggressive marketing campaigns, commercial spots at the Oscars, and becoming a sponsor for the New York fashion week for men. He obviously approached the brand’s revival with a modern eye and aimed to turn it into an automaker for young and successful people.
Success Doesn’t Come Over Night
GM just didn't have the patience. It wanted Cadillac back in the game as quick as possible
Needless to say, Cadillac didn’t bounce back as expected. Sales are still low compared to the German competition and although they’ve increase in China, they actually went down in the U.S. But, this isn’t necessarily De Nysschen’s fault. Putting a struggling company on the path to success takes a lot of work and requires a lot of time. As in years. The four years that De Nysschen had with the company might not have been enough. It takes some time to get settled and change the strategy anyway, so he actually had less than that.
To say that he did nothing to move things would be unfair. Under De Nysschen, Cadillac finally launched a proper flagship, the CT6, and two solid performance models in the ATS-V and CTS-V. The CT6 V Sport and its 550-horsepower V-8 is more proof that De Nysschen took the necessary steps to go against BMW and Mercedes-Benz. The XT5 and XT4 crossovers led the brand’s new assault on the SUV market, and although I agree that two models aren’t enough, it’s not like you can do more in three or four years.
But much like in sports, team owners rarely have the patience to leave a coach do its thing and take a long-term strategy to the end. GM just didn’t have the patience. It wanted Cadillac back in the game as quick as possible, ignoring that decades of absence from the top division can’t be recovered in three to four years in an era that’s more competitive than ever. GM also probably felt that it was losing most control of the brand and wanted it back under its direct command, so De Nysschen had to go.
Carlisle Might Not Be the Right Man
De Nysschen needed and deserved a bit more time at the helm
One of the reasons that GM fired De Nysschen is that he was an outsider. Unlike most high-ranking employees, De Nysschen didn’t have other jobs at GM before taking over as president. It’s not yet clear if this meant that he had his hands tied in certain company matters, but the fact that he was replaced by Steve Carlisle, a GM veteran of 36 years, suggests that General Motors had some issues in this department.
By putting Carlisle at the helm, GM basically made sure that Cadillac will follow the company rulebook without getting all sorts of crazy ideas, like moving headquarters to New York. But hey, this doesn’t necessarily mean that Cadillac will do better. With the brand’s expansion strategy still halfway, anything could happen over the next couple of years. And Carlisle might screw things up. I know experience comes with age, but it’s not a mystery that old managers come with dated strategies quite often. And in order to bring more young drivers in dealerships, Cadillac needs to stop thinking like a company that makes cars for old people. Unless it’s Toyota!
Also, if GM decides to cancel some of the changes De Nysschen made in these four years, Cadillac might take a few steps back compared to the competition. And it’s not something it wants to do right now with BMW and Mercedes-Benz growing fast. De Nysschen needed and deserved a bit more time at the helm.
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