One of my very dear friends in the automotive industry has just taken his next step up the career ladder towards the pantheon of automotive public relations greats.
Simon Sproule will leave his current job as Chief Marketing Officer with Aston Martin to become Head of Communications for FIAT CHRYSLER AUTOMOBILES on February 3, which is described as variously based in Auburn Hills, Michigan and Milan, Italy.
I have known Simon from when he became PR Vice President at Jaguar Cars North America, when it was (once again) trying to rediscover its mojo, and boost its reputation. As someone who formerly held this role at Jaguar USA, I am delighted to report that he was instrumental in achieving both targets.
Ford was smart enough to recognize his potential, so he was bound for Dearborn not long after.
However, it was probably the next role which was so important to Simon's career and allowed him to gather an enormous breadth and depth of experience. He joined Nissan-Infiniti, where he served as a close confidant and advisor to Carlos Ghosn. Together they headed the team which brought Nissan back from the dead, and created the behemoth which grew again to become the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance.
His next role was working alongside Elon Musk at Tesla, which although it provided Simon with a window into the world of electric and autonomous vehicles, it was his next job which seemed a very serendipitous development. He was appointed Chief Marketing Officer at Aston Martin Lagonda, where he excelled at building the brand, and guiding it through its developing relationship with Red Bull Racing.
At this point I have to offer a personal opinion on the timing of Simon's latest move, from Aston Martin to FCA.
I believe Simon recognised that Aston Martin is changing, and that the challenge of maintaining the brand's image is going to get harder, and that may be a job he no longer sees as 'interesting'. Personally, I think the role of Chairman and CEO has gone to Andy Palmer's head. He has been the source of an amazing number of dubious statements recently, like "We don't make cars, we make experiences."
However, again commenting on timing, FCA is about to undergo massive cultural and engineering changes, which will have a dramatic outcome on the company's image, position and status in the USA. I think this is just the sort of challenge that Simon Sproule thrives on.
It is not going to be easy integrating FCA and France's Groupe PSA. There will be turf wars, product development battles and also the challenge of developing a cohesive image and status for the 'merged' companies. My own view is that FCA will lose its status (as an equal), when the 'merger' occurs, because Groupe PSA under Carlos Tavares is now a European powerhouse.
Also Simon Sproule knows Tavares, from their days together at Renault, and I believe the decision to hire Simon Sproule was probably driven by Tavares, rather than FCA's Chairman, Mike Manley.
FCA is going to need the sort of high-powered assistance Simon can bring to the role, and I look forward to the developments over the next few years.
Good luck Simon, you're a champion in my eyes, and you will be Aston Martin's loss, and FCA's gain.