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Don Butler, Vice President of GM's Cadillac brand, announces his retirement
(August 5, 2013) In an unexpected development, Don Butler, Vice President of Global Cadillac Strategic Development, has announced that he is retiring from his post at General Motors.
Butler had just been promoted to the post in April from Cadillac's U.S. Vice President of Marketing. During his tenure, the GM luxury brand saw some of its greatest growth in sales in years. Under Butler's tenure, the Carol H. Williams Advertising agency returned to GM following a purge by the automaker's former executives of all African-American ad agency assignments.
Butler's departure creates a void for the brand with black consumers, as he had become the African-American face for the Cadillac line. At the recent American Black Film Festival, Cadillac sponsored a conversation with Butler, filmmaker Spike Lee and ABFF founder Jeff Friday. At the session Butler recounted to the audience how African-Americans saved Cadillac during the Great Depression.
"During the Depression in the 1930s the economy was … in really bad shape. They had actually considered shutting down the brand. There was a service engineer -- he was German -- an he asked to make a presentation before the GM board of directors. He said 'I have an idea on how I think we can save Cadillac.'
"What (the service director/engineer) had noticed was that black men were bringing in their Cadillacs. Now, normally, he thought that black men were bringing in their (white) owners' Cadillacs. But, no, they owned these vehicles and they were brining them in for service. He was confused because at the time, unfortunately, (GM) was not selling Cadillacs to black Americans. It was forbidden to sell a Cadillac to African Americans walking into the showrooms.
"What he detected were that African Americans, who had accumulate the means, were hiring white men to go buy Cadillacs for them. I invite you to "Google" this, to look it up. What he essentially said is that we (GM) need to begin to market directly to African Americans and tell them that we are open for business for Cadillacs. So, in a sense, that was the first diversity marketing, if you want to look at it that way.
"Black Americans helped keep Cadillac alive. We absolutely did. And so that has a special sense, special meaning for me. The roots of that connection is very, very deep"
Butler's history with GM is distinguished by a number of accomplishments. He served as Vice President, Planning and Business Development from 2001 to 2005, when he established alliances with key business partners such as Verizon Wireless and Qualcomm, led the creation and development of new services such as Turn-by-Turn Navigation and OnStar Vehicle Diagnostics and developed the strategy which led to GM adopting OnStar as standard equipment in North American vehicles.
In 2005, Butler was appointed Chairman and Managing Director, General Motors Egypt where he led the achievement of all time sales records in that country. Butler returned to the U.S. in 2007 where he was named Executive Director, Chevrolet Truck Marketing, guiding the Chevrolet truck brands through a critical time of restructuring in the U.S. market.
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