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Harris returns to head GM public relations

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Harris returns to head GM public relations

DETROIT -- Beset by bad press and a skeptical Wall Street community, General Motors is bringing back its former public relations chief, Steve Harris.

According to a company insider, Harris will resume his former job as vice president of global communications on Wednesday, Feb. 1. He replaces Tom Kowaleski, 54, who took that job after Harris retired in 2004. Kowaleski is leaving GM to pursue other interests.

According to a company insider, senior GM executives have concluded that Kowaleski -- who is known for his product expertise -- is not well-suited to be GM's spokesman during its financial crisis.

Harris, 59, was widely acclaimed for his pr skills at GM and the Chrysler group. He will hold GM's top communications job for 18 months or so while GM grooms his successor.


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GM's Top Communications Exec to Resign

Tuesday January 31, 5:25 pm ET

Tom Kowaleski, General Motors' Top Communications Executive, to Resign March 1

DETROIT (AP) -- General Motors Corp.'s top communications executive, who steered the company's public relations during times of dismal earnings and bankruptcy rumors, will resign March 1, the automaker said Tuesday.

Tom Kowaleski, vice president of global communications, said he is stepping down because he misses the product side of the business and wants to pursue other opportunities. Steve Harris, who retired from GM in 2004, is returning to the company to replace Kowaleski.

Kowaleski, 54, has worked in auto communications for 26 years, with GM, DaimlerChrysler AG, American Motors Corp. and Renault SA. He joined GM as executive director of product communications in 1999 and was named vice president of global communications in 2004.

GM Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner said Kowaleski "was dedicated to helping get our turnaround efforts known and understood and has been a strong advocate for our company during a particularly challenging time in its history."

GM has been challenged by fierce competition and rising health-care rates at the same time its U.S. market share has been falling. The world's largest automaker said last week it lost $8.6 billion in 2005, its worst results since 1992. In November, GM announced a turnaround plan that will cut 30,000 jobs and close 12 facilities by 2008.

Harris, 60, began his public relations career at GM in 1967. He worked for American Motors and DaimlerChrysler before returning to GM, where he was vice president of communications from 1999 to 2004. Wagoner said Harris is regarded as one of the leaders of the profession.

GM shares fell 28 cents, or 1.2 percent, to close at $24.06 Tuesday on the New York Stock Exchange.

General Motors Corp.: http://www.gm.com

Direct URL: http://biz.yahoo.com/ap/060131/gm_moves.html

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GM replaces top spokesman after run of bad news

Tue Jan 31, 2006 04:21 PM ET

DETROIT, Jan 31 (Reuters) - General Motors Corp. (GM.N: Quote, Profile, Research) on Tuesday replaced its top spokesman with his predecessor, a seasoned auto executive that analysts said would be charged with repairing the image of the world's largest auto maker after a string of losses and missteps.

GM said Steve Harris, who ran the company's global communications operation from 1999 through 2004, would take over on Wednesday from Tom Kowaleski, who said he was resigning, effective March 1, to pursue other opportunities.

The announcement comes less than a week after GM posted an $8.6 billion loss for 2005 -- its largest annual loss since 1992.

"GM has suffered from image problems for several years now and they just had to do something," said Peter DeLorenzo, publisher of a closely-watched industry Web site, Autoextremist.com.

"Tom is an outstanding product guy, but GM is in crisis mode right now, and what they really need is crisis PR leadership, which is something that Steve is very good at," he said.

GM has been struggling with high health care costs, loss of market share to foreign rivals and sluggish sales of the sport- utility vehicles that had been its profit generators. GM shares lost 50 percent of their value in 2005.

The company's troubles have sparked concern the media attention on GM's financial problems, including the risk of an eventual bankruptcy filing, could keep potential customers from dealer showrooms.

Harris, 60, began his career at GM in 1967, and went to American Motors in 1979. He has also worked at the U.S. operations of DaimlerChrysler AG's (DCXGn.DE: Quote, Profile, Research) Chrysler unit and most recently ran a communications consultancy based in Birmingham after retiring from GM.

"Steve has long enjoyed an outstanding reputation in this industry and is one of the top leaders in his profession. I know he will hit the ground running," GM Chief Executive Rick Wagoner said in a statement.

Jim Sanfilippo, executive vice president of AMCI, an auto marketing firm in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, called the change a "good move."

"You have blue skies and you have gray skies and you deploy talent appropriately to suit the situation," Sanfilippo said. "Harris will offer exceptional counsel as GM navigates its way out of its gray skies. He knows what to do."

Kowaleski, 54, said he missed being involved in the product side of the auto industry, where he had spent much of his career. He said he would work with Harris to ensure a smooth transition.

Direct URL: http://yahoo.reuters.com/financeQuoteCompa...31173188_newsml

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