Fiat Chrysler’s Canadian boss Reid Bigland stands out as a multitasker. In addition to being CEO of FCA Canada, he is head of sales for the automaker in the United States.
His executive juggling act grew more complex in May when he filed a whistleblower suit to protect himself against his own company. And this as he fights cooling markets on both sides of the border.
Yet not much has appeared to change at FCA Canada. How?
Some who follow the company say the same management approach that has allowed Bigland to carry jobs in two countries helps steady FCA Canada amid the lawsuit: Delegation.
Since 2011, many of the day-to-day responsibilities typically reserved for an automaker’s Canadian CEO have been passed off to FCA Canada COO David Buckingham, said Dennis DesRosiers, president of DesRosiers Automotive Consultants, who has followed the industry in Canada since 1973.
“Your strength is the team around you,” DesRosiers said. “He’s not necessarily doing all the work. Buckingham is doing more in Canada and has had to take on more responsibility, as has the team around him.”
Bigland, a native of Kamloops, B.C., filed his lawsuit in the United States, alleging FCA was withholding 90 per cent of his pay in retaliated for his participation in a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission investigation into the company's sales reporting and his decision to sell all of his FCA stock. The complaint portrays Bigland as a scapegoat for sales practices that were changed in July 2016, when the company admitted that a 75-month streak of yearover-year gains in the United States had actually ended three years earlier. Bigland became head of U.S. sales in April 2010, about a year after that streak began.
FCA, however, argued in a July 8 court filing that Bigland doesn’t merit whistleblower protections, claiming that his compensation was slashed because he is implicated in the federal probe not because he cooperated with investigators.
Michael Wyant, COO at the Wyant Group in Saskatchewan, said he hasn’t noticed any differences in FCA Canada’s dealer relations since news of Bigland’s suit broke.
“Nothing’s changed on our end yet.”
Bigland is based in FCA’s U.S. headquarters in Auburn Hills, Mich., about 70 kilometres north of FCA Canada’s main offices in Windsor, Ont. Distance, as well as his numerous roles with the automaker, have likely required Bigland to delegate many of his responsibilities, DesRosiers said.
“I’ve never seen Canada run outside of Canada,” DesRosiers said. “Reid is technically still head of FCA Canada, but that’s a first. Every Canadian company has always had somebody proactive in the country. I’ve also never run across an executive being investigated by the [government] in the U.S. relative to their sales numbers.”
The uncertainty surrounding Bigland comes as FCA deals with plummeting sales in Canada, down 13 per cent through the first six months of 2019, compared with the same period a year earlier. That follows a 16-per-cent drop in 2018.
In the United States, FCA's sales are down 1.7 per cent this year through June.
DesRosiers said FCA Canada’s numbers are “hard to explain,” considering Jeep models selling in the utility segment and the strength of Ram pickups. He said FCA, under late CEO Sergio Marchionne, was among the first to recognize the market shift away from cars toward light trucks. But other automakers have caught up, and many of FCA’s vehicles are “getting long in the tooth,” he said.
“It’s possibly the toughest segment to compete in, and it’s a moving target and it’s changing very rapidly.
“Perhaps this comes back to the resources. Do they have the resources to keep up with what everybody else has in that segment? To tell you the truth, I don’t really know. From the outside, it appears that they could use more.”
Automotive News reporter Vince Bond Jr. contributed to this report.