GM's CEO fires his top PR man

Feb. 2, 2006 at 8:26 AM

DETROIT, Feb. 2 (UPI) -- General Motors Corp.'s chief executive fired his top public relations official and hired a replacement out of retirement.

Rick Wagoner dismissed Tom Kowaleski and replaced him, effective Thursday, with Steve Harris, the Detroit Free Press said. Harris said that GM Chief Executive Rick Wagoner persuaded him about a week ago to return to GM.

Kowaleski had the misfortune to be the messenger during GM's loss of $8.6 billion last year and the erosion of more than 2 full percentage points of market share the last couple of years.

One of Harris' emphases is expected to be presenting GM as essential to the U.S. economy, analysts said.

"Clearly, GM has been getting hammered in terms of its image relentlessly going on two years now. They are in crisis mode," said Peter DeLorenzo, publisher of the Web site autoextremist.com and the son of Tony DeLorenzo, the GM public relations chief from 1957-79.

Kowaleski, who previously was head of product communications under Harris at GM, is excellent when it comes to publicizing new cars and trucks, but Harris is more skilled at dealing with crises, Peter DeLorenzo said.

Kowaleski's departure is set for March 1.

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