General Motors Appoints Deborah Wahl to CMO

She's the company's first marketing chief since 2012

General Motors said Thursday that, for the first time in seven years, it has a chief marketing officer. 

The auto manufacturer promoted Deborah Wahl to the head marketing role after about 18 months as Cadillac’s CMO. Wahl knows her way around Detroit, as she was Chrysler’s CMO from 2007-2009 after working her way up through marketing gigs at Lexus, Ford and Toyota. Prior to Cadillac, she was McDonald’s CMO.

The last GM CMO, Joel Ewanick, was supposedly fired in 2012 after the company’s then-CEO, Dan Akerson, laid the blame of Chevrolet’s $560 million sponsorship into soccer’s storied Manchester United club. 

The move comes at a time when GM is looking to marry the role marketing plays in building brands with “ensuring more effective, efficient and agile customer engagement,” according to a memo GM’s CEO, Mary Barra, sent to employees announcing the promotion. 

Wahl and GM were unavailable for comment at press time. 

Coming into a company with as much history as GM can be challenging for a lot of people. Wahl, according to a company insider familiar with her work, does not appear to be “a lot of people.” Partly, that may be due to internal politics ironing out over the last year, as the company has undergone a restructuring (it announced in November 2018 that it is laying off about 15,000 of its workforce, including 25% of its executive staff), but sources inside GM say they are impressed with the way Wahl works with partners.

“She thinks big and she looks for ways to make big happen,” a source said.

Wahl’s experience backs this up. As CMO of McDonald’s, she spearheaded the company’s entrance into digital, leading the team that “developed the US digital strategy and launched the first US McDonald’s app,” according to her LinkedIn profile. 

The Detroit Free Press reports that Barra’s memo outlines that Wahl will report to Barry Engle, GM’s president of the Americas. Melissa Grady will step up into the Cadillac CMO role, and the “marketing leaders at Chevrolet, Buick, GMC, Cadillac, OnStar, CCA and GM Financial will report to both Wahl and the leader of their respective business unit.”


@joshsternberg josh.sternberg@adweek.com Josh Sternberg is Adweek's tech editor.
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