Nick Scheele, a globe-trotting troubleshooter and tough-nosed negotiator who served as president and COO of Ford Motor Co., died Friday. He was 70. I worked with Nick during my years as Ford Dealer Council Chairman from 2000 to 2002.
The affable, British-born Scheele spent nearly four decades at Ford and his easy-going style earned him a bevy of friends and admirers throughout the auto industry.
He served as chairman and CEO of Ford’s Jaguar Cars unit from 1992 to 1999 and later chairman of Ford of Europe from January 2000 through July 2001.
He capped his career as Ford’s president and COO from 2001-05.
Scheele, working under then-CEO Bill Ford, led the troubled automaker’s turnaround plan after the departure of former CEO Jacques Nasser. Ford was losing U.S. market share and spending huge sums on consumer rebates and incentives. The company remained profitable but only because of Ford Credit.
“Not only did Nick help us overcome many challenges at the time, he mended relationships with our dealers, our suppliers and our employees, and set the stage for many of today’s leaders who are moving us forward,” Executive Chairman Bill Ford said in a statement Friday. “Nick Scheele was an outstanding leader whose global experience and passion for our products served Ford Motor Company at a critical time.”
Scheele was no stranger to solving problems and helped steer Ford through some of its best and worst times, including the Firestone tire crisis at the turn of the century.
At the time of his appointment as COO, Scheele downplayed the notion that Ford needed a savior.
“It’s not broken — let’s be clear about that,” he told Automotive News at the time. “We’ve got a few problems, but the barn isn’t burning down.”
In a 2002 interview with Fortune, Scheele rattled off some other ills still battering Ford: weak capital spending, high marketing outlays, damaging employee lawsuits, and the Firestone tire debacle.
He found it hard to believe that Ford, which just two years earlier was widely admired for being one of the world’s best-managed automakers, had fallen so far so fast.
“It is absolutely nuts,” he told the magazine.
As head of Ford’s European operations, Scheele oversaw the painful and controversial closure of the company’s car assembly operation in Dagenham, England, in 2000, but managed to handle it with great composure and skill.
The closing was particularly difficult for Scheele because he was born in Essex, the county where Dagenham is located.