I saw this coming, but really thought it would be at the end of the second quarter of this year. However, Monday morning Ford announced that Ford Motor Company CEO Mark Fields was “retiring”. In the auto industry, that is the code word for being shown the door.
Fields, 56, was a 28-year veteran of Ford Motor Company. He had been under fire recently for the poor performance of Ford Motor Company stock prices, which have fallen 40 percent since he took the helm in July 2014. While profits have been good, members of the Ford Board of Directors have questioned Field’s vision for the future, and lack of communication with employees. Last week, Ford announced a layoff of over 1400 employees.
In my opinion, Fields was doomed from the start, but it was not all his fault. He had the unfortunate timing to come behind the very personable Alan Mulally, who was a master communicator and automotive industry media darling. Mr. Mulally was on the Car Pro Show several times. Mulally was credited with saving Ford while GM and Chrysler were in the midst of bankruptcy.
In a Monday morning press conference, Ford Chairman Bill Ford announced the new CEO would be Jim Hackett. Hackett, 62, was formerly the Chairman of Ford Mobility, but previously was formerly the CEO of a company called Steelcase, a manufacturer of office furniture and medical furniture. Hackett also helped revive the football program as interim athletic director at the University of Michigan, making key hires such Jim Harbaugh as coach.
According to a press conference I watched online, Chairman Bill Ford said “bureaucracy and hierarchy overwhelmed what could be faster decision making,” Ford said. “The clock speed at which the world is moving, and our competitors, really requires us to make decisions at a faster pace, and we have to trust our people to move fast. It’s not command and control.”
Although Hackett worked for Ford, he was a virtual newcomer to the auto industry, and given the success of Alan Mulally, a total novice of auto companies, it is no surprise Bill Ford went to an outsider to shore up the successes of the plans laid by Mulally. I have spoken one-on-one with Fields several times, as recent as a few months ago, and I can tell you, he is a nice guy, but is not a warm individual, and I suspect that came through to the Ford employees, and certainly the dealers.
I have personally known every Ford CEO since Alex Trotman vacated the post in 1998. I am not sure anyone can fill the shoes of, or make a bigger impact, than Alan Mulally.