Tony Cervone, Hall of Fame 2019

SVP, global communications, General Motors

Automotive sector veteran Tony Cervone has been SVP of global communications at General Motors since May 2014, his second spell at the iconic carmaker.

As the Detroit-based behemoth’s top communications executive, he is responsible for overall global strategy and, in October 2015, he assumed responsibility for GM’s corporate giving activities. He is a member of the company’s senior leadership team and a senior adviser to CEO Mary Barra. He has extensive experience restructuring corporate PR operations evolving through dramatic change, both at the national and international level.

What would your advice be for a young person entering PR in 2020?
Always stay intellectually curious, both in terms of learning the ins and outs of the company, brand or issue you represent and the evolution of the comms profession.

PR is constantly changing, but it feels like we’re at a fundamental tipping point — what role should the industry play in government, society and business?
Being the linchpin in aligning company purpose with driving authentic social change for the betterment of humankind. We must articulate organizational values in ways that both resonate and drive decision-making.

How are the founding principles of PR relevant in today’s fast-moving and febrile communications environment?
Although the means by which we communicate may change, our role in understanding the importance of building trust with the public remains a cornerstone to the value we bring to either clients or institutions. It will always remain paramount to allow truth to drive the authenticity of communications and not succumb to the immediate gratification of the sound bite nature of media and society.

What was the main lesson you learned after the automotive giants were bailed out by the U.S. government in 2008?
That no matter who you are or what you’ve accomplished, you continue to have to earn the right to exist. As is the case with humans, tomorrow is never promised.

What keeps you excited about working in the PR industry?
Communications and public relations remain at the epicenter of what’s going on in an organization. For as long as I’ve been working in the field, we’ve asked for a proverbial seat at the table, and to have influence. We now have one. We also have tools to show our relevance and the means to directly influence stakeholders.

We’re also at the center of communications disruption, so the agility of the communications professional has never been more important or relevant.

When will we know that Detroit is well and truly back?
When the whole city is thriving, including the neighborhoods beyond downtown and midtown. When families are moving back and able to find good work and receive a quality public school education, all within the city borders.

How do you relax?
I "park" my extroversion in favor of being an introvert; either in the quiet of northern Michigan or on the beaches of the Caribbean.

Favorite drink?
Ice-cold Arnold Palmer.

Favorite band and album?
MercyMe (Christian rock) and album I Can Only Imagine.

Which three people, living or dead, would you like to host at a dinner party?
Jesus Christ, Albert Einstein and Socrates. Could you just imagine the conversation?


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