When General Motors Corp. unveiled its new credit card last week, the billboard-size card displayed at the press conference bore the name of Ronald N. Zebeck.

Since then, the Zebeck name has appeared repeatedly in card ads in the nation's major business press and on television.

It is only fitting.

Mr. Zebeck is managing director of the car giant's credit card operations, and he can't stop talking about the product. Like a proud father, he boasts unabashedly about every feature of the GM MasterCard -- from its pricing and rebate features to its physical appearance.

"It's great to see the hologram look of the card," he says, "to see the way the GM logo reflects."

Indeed, he sees things that are hidden from the uninitiated.

The card, he explains, has a metallic shine that is modeled after that of a 1992 Oldsmobile Toronado. He chose the dark color by visiting an Oldsmobile showroom.

"The card really looks great," he says again.

Mr. Zebeck, 37, joined General Motors last October from Advanta Corp. In his five years at the Horsham, Pa.-based company -- known primarily for no-fee, low-rate gold cards -- Advanta became one of the largest issuers of gold MasterCards.

Former associates speak appreciatively of Mr. Zebeck's zeal.

He "is a pretty creative person who knows the bank card business," said Jeffrey Fread, who oversees asset quality for Advanta. "And he is success-oriented."

Mr. Zebeck, a Baltimore native, spent nine years at a Citicorp unit in Maryland before joining Advanta. He was responsible for the New York-based banking giant's credit-line program and also rose to become chief of its low-price Choice credit card program.

Benefiting from Experience

Mr. Zebeck said his experience with Citicorp management is proving valuable at General Motors.

"Like at Citicorp, the process is spearheaded by senior managers of the corporation, and there is real opportunity there," he said.

As head of the card group, he added, he has been "given a huge amount of autonomy."

That has lead him into some unusual locations. He says he spent days on mountaintops overseeing the filming of commercials for the GM card.

One of the trickiest aspects of the GM launch was keeping details about the card under wraps. He didn't always succeed. For months, the banking, automotive, and advertising industries buzzed with rumors about a no-fee card that would feature rebates on GM vehicles based on total card purchases.

Some Surprises Left

Enough confidentiality was maintained, however, to allow a series of "teaser" television ads to generate interest in the days before the product was launched on Sept. 9.

"We started to call it |the best-kept secret everybody knew,'" Mr. Zebeck said. "But a lot of people worked really hard to make sure we still had some surprises at our news conference."

Indeed, GM scored a marketing coup at the conference with some of the features experts said. For example, unusually high rebates of up to $3,500 on cars can accumulate over seven years.

The cap can be exceeded if the card is used for services and products from such "corporate partners" as MCI, Avis, and the Marriott hotel chain.

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