Ford swat team looks for answers to long-range vision
By Daniel Howes / The Detroit News
Mark Fields is in a hurry because he has to be.
The newest head of Ford Motor Co.'s North American operations is spearheading a corporate swat team of roughly a dozen hand-picked execs that is systematically reviewing the automaker's business in its single most important market.
Few things are sacred, Ford executives familiar with the process tell me, which is exactly what Chairman Bill Ford Jr. wants from Fields. About the only mistake Fields can make, Bill Ford is said to have told Fields, is the mistake of being too timid.
Officially, Ford Motor says it will detail its latest restructuring of North American operations -- which Field's has dubbed the "way forward" plan -- in late January. That means Motown can bet on another dose of downers between the Detroit auto show and Super Bowl XL in the house the Ford family built.
More job cuts
What that restructuring will look like is up to Fields, president of the Americas, and his chief operating officer, Anne Stevens. This much seems certain: Ford Motor will announce the shutdown of more plants and the elimination of thousands of jobs.
How many depends on Field's reappraisal of Ford's North American product portfolio and how new car and truck roll-out plans would affect plant investments. Sean McAlinden, chief economist of the Center for Automotive Research, estimates that Ford Motor could announce plans to cut as many as 14,000 jobs.
That's likely to include some ranking executives deemed to be more a symptom of Ford Motor's executive sclerosis instead of a potential cure. Fields & Co. aren't just another new leadership team atop the company's vast U.S. business; they're supposed to represent a new 21st-century culture that understands the only way to fix Ford Motor is to change it from within.
Finding what works
At least that's the theory. Distill the value and credibility of Ford's brands -- the ruggedness of Ford trucks, the sportiness of Mazda, the safety of Volvos and the value of Ford-brand cars. Push deeper into world-class flexible manufacturing and quality. Borrow ideas liberally from elsewhere in the world if they make sense.
One of the things Bill Ford likes about Fields is his global experience and how that can influence decision-making. He worked in Argentina; headed Mazda in Japan; oversaw Ford's European brands from London.
In theory, all that globetrotting should be an asset, if only because working away from your own company and country can teach more than never having left. But theory isn't sufficient for Ford Motor right now.
It needs stability. It needs results. And it needs a long-term strategic vision that is larger than those who conceived it and isn't reworked every time a new North American boss arrives.
They know this over there. They just have to do it -- in a hurry.