DETROIT—Veteran automotive public relations executive Steve Harris, who led the company’s communications from 1999 until his retirement in 2004, is returning to the company in his old role as vice president of global communications, replacing current vice president Tom Kowaleski,who has resigned effective March 1.
Harris, widely respected admired by management at GM and the automotive press, had been running a communications consultancy in Birmingham, Mich., since his retirement.
“We are fortunate that Steve has agreed to leave an active communications consulting practice and return—for a second time—to General Motors,” says Rick Wagoner, chairman and CEO of the troubled automaker. “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.”
Kowaleski said that while he had enjoyed an “incredible array of challenges and opportunities” in his seven years at GM, he increasingly missed being more deeply involved in the product side of the business, where he invested much of his career. An Automotive News report suggested that management at GM felt Kowalski—best known for his product PR expertise—was “not well-suited to be GM’s spokesman during its financial crisis.”
“I’ve been doing a lot of thinking over the last months about what gives me the most satisfaction, and provides the highest value to those I work for and with,” he said in a press release. “I’ve also been presented with some excellent opportunities, and I’ve concluded that now is the best time to take advantage of them, to get closer to the kind of work I most enjoy.”
Kowaleski said he will work with Harris to ensure a smooth transition.
“Tom has helped transform GM Communications into a truly global organization, 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,” said Wagoner. “I respect his decision to pursue other interests, and wish him much success.”
Kowaleski has worked in automotive communications for 26 years with GM, DaimlerChrysler, American Motors and Renault. He joined GM as executive director of product communications in March 1999, was named vice president of GM North America communications in 2001, and vice president of global communications in 2004.
Before joining GM, Kowaleski worked with Harris at Daimler Chrysler, as director of communications strategy for and earlier as vice president of marketing and communications for Chrysler Europe.
Harris began his career at GM in 1967 before joining American Motors as director of product public relations. He became Chrysler’s director of corporate public relations in November 1987, vice president of communications in January 1998, and senior vice president of communications for DaimlerChrysler in November 1998. He returned to GM as vice president of communications in February 1999 and retired in January 2004.