Gateway grabs Ford big wheel

NORTH SIOUX CITY, SD: Buoyant computer giant Gateway has lured a top level PR pro from Ford as it beefs up its global communications.

NORTH SIOUX CITY, SD: Buoyant computer giant Gateway has lured a top level PR pro from Ford as it beefs up its global communications.

John Spelich is the second communications leader to depart the auto giant for a West Coast firm this year. An 11-year veteran of the company, he was Ford's director of global news and information.

He has decided to join a new PR team being formed in San Diego for South Dakota-based Gateway, the country's fifth-largest computer manufacturer. Spelich will become Gateway's director of worldwide corporate communications, effective July 12.

He will report to Brad Shaw, VP of corporate communications, who joined Gateway four months ago fresh from Pepsi-Cola. Shaw has been building a new PR team to raise Gateway's profile among consumers.

Gateway is already well known among the computer trade press. But Shaw and his new team are trying to 'broaden the message to the consumer press,' he said. Shaw added that there would be more PR hires in the coming months.

Recently, Gateway has been in the news as a possible suitor for Earthlink Networks, an Internet service provider.

While Gateway had a formal search underway to fill the position Spelich took, he and Shaw met through a mutual acquaintance and began discussing the possibility of Spelich moving west. The decision was a difficult one for Spelich, a life-long Detroit resident whose parents also work for Ford. 'It was not an easy decision,' he said. 'It's bittersweet from the point of view that I care a lot about Ford.'

Eventually, however, Spelich decided that going to Gateway at this point in its corporate development 'could be going to the Henry Ford of the 21st century,' he said. 'We're going to make some noise.'

In February, Judith Muhlberg, a 22-year Ford veteran, left to become VP of communications with Boeing. She had been director of public affairs for Ford's automotive operations, and some long-time auto hands had speculated she might someday rise to the top of the Ford PR pile. But Vaughn Koshkarian, former president of Ford China Operations, took that spot at the start of this year.

Koshkarian's promotion wasn't mentioned by either Spelich or Muhlberg when they left. Both said they felt the new jobs they took were simply too good to pass up.

It is not clear if Ford will fill Spelich's position internally or through an outside search. Auto PR people, however, tend to come from within the industry.

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