Awaiting Lee, 61, in his new role as Hyundai Motor America's CEO is a much more uncomfortable situation. HMA's sales are down 13 percent this year. Its dealers are frustrated by a variety of issues including engines delayed as part of several recalls, a product mix that skews too heavily toward cars and startup issues with the Genesis luxury brand, which is expected to cut its dealer body sharply in coming weeks.
In Korea, parent Hyundai Motor Co. continues to deny HMA the kind of autonomy it has long sought, leading the U.S. arm to churn through top-level executives. The most recent casualty was CEO Dave Zuchowski, who was fired in December for failing to meet internal sales targets and replaced on an interim basis by Jerry Flannery, HMA's general counsel.
While Flannery lacked Zuchowski's sales background, he was well-liked at HMA. Dealers liked him, too, and felt that if he was paired with Sam Brnovich as sales chief or COO, the duo would make a compelling executive team, according to Andrew DiFeo, chairman of the Hyundai National Dealer Council.
Brnovich has been serving as de facto sales chief since Derrick Hatami left for Volkswagen in June.
Hyundai Motor offered Flannery the CEO post full time but refused to meet certain nonfinancial demands he made, according to multiple sources familiar with the situation. HMA declined to comment.
After struggling to find external candidates willing to risk a short stint in a high-pressure role, Hyundai finally landed on an HMA outsider, but one it knew well.
Lee is a veteran of Hyundai and Kia operations globally. Most recently, for 10 years he led a Hyundai subsidiary that built semitrailers. During 13 years with Kia, he served as head of its operations in Spain and Latin America and held a regional post in the Caribbean office.
While Lee's experience will be welcomed at HMA, it means that for the first time since 2008, there is no American executive serving as a buffer between HMA and the bosses in South Korea. Whether that setup adds to greater tension or cooperation between the parent company and the U.S. unit remains to be seen. Dealers have sought a U.S. leader with enough clout to push back against aggressive sales targets and production decisions from the parent company.
Both Flannery and Brnovich, who is Hyundai's southern region general manager, are returning to their regular jobs as a result of Lee's hire.
The executive moves at Honda have little to do with internal or external turmoil and more with the career cycles of its executives.
Honda has gone through a broader shuffle of its North American leadership, with Toshiaki Mikoshiba taking over as president and CEO of American Honda in 2016 and 13-year Honda veteran John Mendel retiring this year from his leadership posts at the U.S. automotive division.
Mendel's duties were assumed by Masayuki Igarashi, who became executive vice president at American Honda's auto operations, and by Jeff Conrad, who is overseeing the Honda and Acura brands as a senior vice president.
Arcangeli most recently was president of Yanmar North America, a heavy equipment maker. His hiring comes after Conrad's decision to retire Dec. 1. Conrad, 65, had planned to retire before Mendel, 62, but agreed to stay on and oversee the transition.
Arcangeli has experience dealing with a consumer-facing dealer body and overseeing a manufacturing entity: From 2006 to 2014, he served as president of the motor sports group at Yamaha.
That experience — and his four years as COO of Pioneer's strategic business services — also gives him cultural familiarity with working for the American arm of a Japanese company.
Arcangeli has engineering degrees from Cornell and Kettering universities, in addition to a Stanford MBA, a background that should serve him well within Honda's engineering-led culture.