Partnership and Purpose and a Post-Car Future at GM

IBM’s former Chief Brand Officer Jon Iwata sat down with General Motors CCO Tony Cervone to discuss how his function is using the levers of brand, purpose, culture, and technology to influence the behaviors that will bring about essential changes in the venerable company.

  • Tony Cervone, Senior Vice President, Global Communications, General Motors Company
  • Jon Iwata, Thought Leadership Chair of Page, former Senior Vice President, Chief Brand Officer, IBM Corporation (interviewer)

Session Photos



IBM’s former Chief Brand Officer Jon Iwata sits down with General Motors Senior Vice President, Global Communications Tony Cervone to discuss how his function is using the levers of brand, purpose, culture, and technology to influence the behaviors that will bring about essential changes in the venerable company. #PageSpring



The Situation

Cervone reminds the audience of the challenges facing GM when Mary Barra became its CEO in 2014.

    • The company was just out of bankruptcy and gaining momentum again.
    • An ignition switch problem that had caused deaths became public within three weeks of starting her job.
    • Competitive threats from Tesla, Uber, Lyft.

“We came to the conclusion that if we were going to be disrupted, we would choose to disrupt ourselves.” – Cervone

GM leadership realized it needed to take a different approach:

“We did the usual branding, mission, values, purpose exercises – but it just wasn’t enough. So Mary assigned me and our CMO to get together and figure out, what does all this really mean?”

The process led to a crucial stakeholder insight, differentiating the GM corporate brand its subsidiary car brands.

“Consumers don’t realize their cars come through GM.”

So the focus was refined to the four key stakeholders of the GM brand:

    • Employees
    • Prospective Employees
    • Policymakers
    • Investors

“That allowed us to figure out where is this brand going to be.”

Focus on the core GM stakeholders led to the insight:

We needed Mary Barra to see and accept that the unintended consequences of our business was causing accidents, pollution, and congestion. This is our inflection point, that’s the solve – crashes, emissions, congestion.”


The Result

GM unveils Zero, Zero, Zero goals.

    • Zero Crashes
    • Zero Emissions
    • Zero Congestion




“We spent a lot of time figuring out what are the behaviors we need to model as leaders, and what are the behaviors we need to inspire people.”

Seven “responsibilities” articulated:

    • Think Customer: Customer needs impact every decision
    • Innovate Now: What could be
    • Look Ahead: Long-term view
    • One Team: Collaboration
    • Be Bold: Speak up
    • It’s On Me: Accountability
    • Win With Integrity: Drive combined with values


”We are using more tools than ever before. We knew we were going to have to become experts at the measurement piece of the business. It’s not about the tools – but about what you are accomplishing through those tools.”


“It is presumptuous for anyone to conclude that my responsibility for the GM brand is because I’m doing something remotely heroic. This is a collaborative effort across the business.”


With talent acquisition and retention as a core goal, GM’s approach to diversity & inclusion became the target of fresh thinking and approach.


In his own words:

“The whole world told us we were going to go out of business.”

“Lots of us have influence with our CEO, that’s one aspect. But you’ve got to have influence over your peer group and across the organization.”

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