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US:Ford's Stevens shows toughness

Ford's Stevens shows toughness

New auto leaders face daunting task

Bryce G. Hoffman / The Detroit News

DETROIT -- Don't let Anne Stevens' personable demeanor fool you.

When a magazine reporter pushed her to answer a question about Ford Motor Co.'s past mistakes Monday, the new chief operating officer of its struggling The Americas group pulled up her sleeve and pointed to a blue wristband emblazoned with the words of Ford's new rallying cry -- Red, White & Bold.

"One of the words on here is bold," Stevens said with her New York accent growing a little stronger. "An example of bold is I looked at you in the face and said, 'Yeah, I have an answer to that, but I don't want to give you the answer because you're going to run a negative sound bite. And I'm not feeling negative. I'm feeling positive.' "

Stevens is indeed optimistic about the future of Ford, but it is that hard edge that has helped make her one of the most powerful women in the auto industry.

She'll need the hard edge and a thick skin for the job she has ahead.

Along with Americas President Mark Fields, and Americas Controller Bob Shanks, Stevens is part of the executive team that Chairman and CEO Bill Ford Jr. has tapped to slash jobs, close factories, re-energize brands and revive U.S. market share.

"Ultimately, Mark (Fields) is the leader but Anne and Bob are integral pieces of that because they bring to the table very different skill sets than Mark has," Bill Ford told reporters Sunday. "Their ability to work together is what I'm most energized by."

Stevens has overall responsibility for leading Ford's core operations in the Americas and was the first woman to become an executive vice president at the company. She came to Ford from Exxon Corp. in 1990 as a marketing specialist in the plastic products division.

By 1995 she had become Ford's first female plant manager in Europe. Stevens went on to oversee manufacturing operations in North America.

In 2003 she was promoted to group vice president in charge of Canada, Mexico and South America, a post she held until she was tapped for her current position last fall.

In her new role, Stevens has worked closely to develop the sweeping restructuring strategy Ford refers to as the Way Forward plan. It will be announced Jan 23.

"I have the operations side I have very deep experience in manufacturing, in product development and in purchasing," Stevens said.

"Mark is very deep in sales and marketing. His background's economics; I'm an engineer."

"You have us working together with our cross-functional team to deliver the business," she said.

"At the end of the day, it's this fabric, this tapestry, of a strategy and plan that we've developed together with a lot of our people," Stevens said.

Fields agrees with her assessment. "I don't have all the answers," Fields said, adding that his aim is to surround himself with talented people that can come up with the answers as a team.

"That's the kind of culture I'm trying to drive with my management team."

But Stevens stressed that every one of Ford's employees is part of turning the company around.

"Mark and I only have a piece of this job here," she said. "It's 100,000 people that are going to do it."

For Stevens, Ford's past mistakes are fodder for what she calls "reflective learning."

"I don't feel negative about it," she said. "You don't have to look at something in the past and go, 'Who screwed that up?' "

A big focus of Stevens' work is what she calls "scenario analysis." Absent a crystal ball, Stevens and her team are trying to identify possible future developments and come up with strategies for coping with them. One example: the possibility that gas could hit $5 a gallon, explaining that Ford needs to consider such possibilities when developing its Way Forward plan and future product strategy.

Stevens is emphatic that Ford is charting a unique course in the automotive industry.

"We're not going to copy Lexus," she said. "We are proud of who we are. We're in touch with who we are and who our customers are. When we're at our best, we are Ford Motor Co., we are the Ford Oval, and we are Lincoln and Mercury.

"And when we're in touch with that, we are great."

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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