It takes just three words to get Mark Reuss’ blood racing: same old GM.
Few folks outside of the automaker’s communications team have worked harder at publicly dispelling that notion than Reuss, who as president of GM North America took the unusual step of using Facebook to tout the company’s gains and, over just the last few days, defend its shortcomings.
But after taking on a story Monday examining North American market share losses at GM that have continued after its restructuring, Reuss deactivated his Facebook account. The retort came several days after Reuss made Facebook comments directed at another story suggesting GM soon would resort to its former practice of discounting to fuel sales.
GM public relations staffers say Reuss’ decision to ditch Facebook was personal and not related to any posts. Perhaps, but this sounds a lot like, yep, same old GM.
The president of GM North America having a Facebook account was refreshing in an industry where top executives typically dislike too cozy a connection with the masses, says Mike Bernacchi, a professor of business administration at the University of Detroit-Mercy.
“Very refreshing and very engaging,” he says. “That’s what Facebook is about. You want to engage people. Obviously, he was all for it.”
The old GM, critics say, lacked that engagement. Steven Rattner, who led Obama’s auto rescue team, famously noted in his book on the 2009 GM bailout that an elevator at GM world headquarters in Detroit could ferry executives directly from the parking garage to the C-suite so there was “no mixing with the drones.”
But in Facebook Reuss saw a chance to mix it up with the critics and tell GM’s side of the story, unfiltered, and just as importantly it put a face on the corporate giant. No gray suit and tie, Reuss posted as many photos from the race track or a Saturday of landscaping as comments on the state of GM’s business.
It humanized GM, a corporation that desperately needs to cultivate a new relationship with everyday Americans, especially when the competition over in Dearborn did not take taxpayer money in the bailout and built its corporation on the face of Henry. Ford continues to win business as a result of both those things, Bernacchi says.
By deactivating his account, however, Reuss actually falls into line with most other corporate big wigs.
According to a recent survey from CEO.com, less than one-third of top CEOs use social media and fewer than 8% use Facebook. That compares with 67% of America, Forbes observes.
A Facebook divorce for public figures is never easy, either, Bernacchi says. “One day you’re there, and then the next day you’re not. It raises a lot of questions.”
In this case, it’s whether we’re seeing the same old GM.