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U.S.A.:Customer service vet to lead Ford unit

July 30, 2003

While Kathleen Ligocki trades one pair of shoes for a bigger set, as she moves from vice president of Ford Motor Co.'s customer service division to head one of Michigan's biggest public companies, the man who takes her place may be slipping on his loafers in his new role.

Francisco Codina, 51, has spent half of his life at Ford, working his way up through the ranks in the customer service division, and he most recently served as general marketing manager for the Ford Division.

So he's hoping to be a comforting face to the network of more than 5,000 often-fussy dealers he will support with parts and service.

"I've been around for quite a while, and they know who I am. So I don't think that will be a challenge for me," said Codina who will now lead the 6,000-strong division that supports customers of Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicles.

"This is really a job I've aspired to for some time," he added.

His predecessor, Ligocki, is set to become chief executive officer at Tower Automotive Inc., an automotive supplier based in Grand Rapids.

Codina describes himself as a hard worker who draws on a difficult past to muster motivation and courage to forge ahead. A native of Cuba, Codina came to the United States as a political refugee at age 13 with his parents through Mexico because "we just wanted to be free."

He was raised in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and remembers, in his mid-20s, seeing Ford's blue-oval logo while driving on Interstate 10 in New Orleans. The sign inspired the lifelong car-lover to walk into Ford in 1977 and apply for a job.

He started in the customer service division in New Orleans as a parts and service representative.

Codina has worked in Metro Detroit three times during the years since then, calling Michigan home because he's collectively put in more years here than anywhere else -- about 9.

He hasn't yet evaluated how he will put his stamp on the division, crediting Ligocki for "leaving me behind a great structure."

In an interview on Tuesday, Ligocki quickly noted her successes at Ford: J.D. Power & Associates this year recognized Ford as showing the most improvement in customer satisfaction with dealer service, with the Lincoln brand even tying with Acura and Lexus in third place. The division's profits were up 27 percent for the first half of the year compared to the year-ago period.

But Ligocki already seemed distracted by her enthusiasm for her new assignment. In discussing the move on Tuesday, she laughed freely and spoke in glowing terms about her time at Ford.

"I have wanted to assume a CEO position for some time," she said.

Ligocki, considered a rising star at Ford, is already known as one of the most powerful women in the auto industry. Now, she will be one of the few to head a major publicly traded firm in Michigan. Tower is listed as the 24th-largest public company in the state, based on its $2.8 billion in revenue.

The job, Ligocki knows, won't be a cakewalk.

Tower, which makes metal vehicle structures, operates in one of the tougher price-competitive sides of the automotive supplier industry. It competes with the likes of ArvinMeritor Inc. of Troy, which is trying to buy another rival, the Toledo, Ohio-based Dana Corp.

Some consider Tower's outlook favorable because of its solid stable of new business on the Ford F-150, Cadillac SRX, and Nissan's Pathfinder Armada and Titan, among others.

Like her predecessor at Tower, CEO Dugald Campbell, she dismissed concerns of strain between Tower and Ford over the supplier's move a year ago to not bid on the Ford Explorer program.

"Ford is Tower's largest customer, and Tower is one of Ford's top 20 suppliers," she said. "The relationship remains strong."

My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.

My next Ford.....
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