Refuelling faith in the motor city

J. Christopher Preuss on positioning a fresh CEO at GM and dealing with history's biggest industrial bankruptcy

In the course of the global financial crisis, GM experienced a change of CEO, when Rick Wagoner was replaced by Fritz Henderson. What was the GM’s communications procedure to make the transition between the two as smooth as possible, and how was Henderson positioned?
That was just one of those things that you knew might happen, but you never knew if it really would happen. When we got news that Henderson was going to be CEO and that Wagoner was out, it was literally a minute’s notice. It should be known that there was forethought given to this – you know, what would happen if… The good news is that he was positioned right away. We worked to make sure the terminology of how Henderson was positioned was strong. Words such as ‘Interim CEO’ could not be used. He had to be given a fair shake to go. We very aggressively moved to get him positioned, first with the internal audience, to keep as much equilibrium inside, and secondly, as was our strategy for most of the bankruptcy, we were extremely proactive to keep the microphone. We didn’t want commentators and pundits making the calls here. He needed to be out there on a message of accountability and transparency, and we immediately worked aggressively to get him out there. I would say he has put in more communicating time than any other CEO I’ve seen, because of this burden of transparency based on how the bailouts and assistance went.

J. Christopher Preuss

J. Christopher Preuss is the senior vice president of marketing and communications at Delphi Automotive, a position he has held since September 2014. He also serves as the chairperson of the Delphi Foundation. Christopher came to Delphi with more than 25 years of global communications experience as well as perspective gained from his role as president and CEO of OnStar — a leader in in-vehicle safety, security, communications and convenience services. Prior to joining Delphi, Christopher was head of communications for the Americas and Global Product at Ford Motor Company, a role he assumed shortly after leading a multi-agency team serving the global Ford accounts at WPP Group. Christopher’s career also includes more than 13 years at General Motors, where he held various leadership roles. In addition to leading OnStar, he also served as vice president of global communications where he was instrumental in managing the company’s transition out of bankruptcy. Before that he was GM’s vice president of European communications in Zurich, Switzerland. His time at GM also includes an assignment based in Washington DC and focused on various government and regulatory issues.