HOLDEN has confirmed longserving GM employee and Australian expatriate Mark Bernhard as its third chairman and managing director in 13 months – and the sixth in seven years.
Bernhard started with Holden in 1986 and was most recently the vice president and CFO of GM Shanghai, based in China.
He will remain in China until mid-year due to school commitments for his children before taking up the Holden posting in July.
“Mark’s knowledge of GM Holden, our region and GM’s global operations will serve him well in his new role,” said GM executive president and president of GM international, Stefan Jacoby.
Bernhard, the first Australian appointed to the top role at Holden in quarter of a century, steps in for Gerry Dorizas, who left suddenly in October 2014 just eight months into the difficult job of repositioning Holden as an import-only brand and winding down the local manufacturing operations, which are due to shut by the end of 2017.
Since late October CFO Jeff Rolfs has filled the top position at Holden.
As a near-30-year veteran at GM Bernhard said he was ready for the role
“I am a Holden man, always have been,” said Bernhard. “Managing director of this company has always been a dream job.
“While I know that the company is going through a very challenging transition, I also know that it is has a very bright future.”
But Bernard acknowledged the substantial challenges ahead.
“I understand that the transition from being a manufacturing company to a National Sales Company is not easy. We need to ensure that those that leave us as a result of this change are treated with dignity, respect and most of all, support.
“But I am really looking forward to leading the re-making of our iconic company as we bring in great new product, continue to revitalise our aftersales service and re-establish ourselves as Australian customers’ favourite car company.”
The announcement was made by visiting GM International Operations boss Stefan Jacoby.
The last Australian Holden boss was the late John Bagshaw, who ran the company from 1987 to 1990.
Since then there have been nine imported bosses, the longest running of which was Bill Hamel from 1990 to 1997.
Some of the most influential were Peter Hanenberger, who revived the Monaro in 2001 and spent big on a product offensive that included a locally-produced four-wheel-drive and a dual cab ute, something insiders say was an expensive exercise.
Another was Mark Reuss, the current boss of product development for General Motors, who in his short tenure at Holden helped save the company in the wake of the global financial crisis.
Holden’s sales have been in a steady decline since the early 2000s, largely off the back of a shift in demand away from the once dominant Commodore.
General Motors admits it focused too heavily on providing life support for the local manufacturing business – which will shut down by the end of 2017 – instead of building a diverse and appealing product portfolio.
“I think we took our eye off the ball of where the customer was going,” said GM president Dan Ammann.
Commodore sales have dropped 70 percent over the past decade contributing to a 40 percent sales slide for the brand overall.
Recent sales performances have not been much better.
While Holden narrowly held on to second place in the 2014 sales race, the January new car sales figures show Holden in third position with a 5.3 percent drop in sales. The last time Holden ranked lower than first or second in Australian sales was in 1997 when Ford topped the charts and Toyota finished second.
And in the exclusive 2014 Wheels Report we revealed Holden is a real chance of sliding to fourth position in 2015 - its worst ever sales position ever, behind Hyundai.