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Top Ford exec tells Jewish leaders that automaker is inclusive

Mark Fields says his background has never been an issue as he has risen through the ranks.

Bryce G. Hoffman / The Detroit News

BLOOMFIELD HILLS -- Mark Fields, the president of Ford Motor Co.'s Americas group and the man charged with leading the company's ambitious restructuring effort, told an audience of Jewish business leaders Wednesday that he has not encountered "one iota of discrimination" as a Jew at Ford.

Fields, one of the highest-ranking Jewish executives in Ford's history, was the guest of honor at a luncheon of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit.

It was the first time Fields has met publicly with members of Detroit's Jewish community since taking over as the head of the automaker's North American operations.

Company founder Henry Ford's name has long been associated with anti-Semitism. Though the automotive pioneer had a number of Jewish friends and business associates, he also used his wealth and position to wage a media campaign against what he saw as a world Jewish conspiracy in the 1920s. Henry Ford later apologized for his outspoken positions.

On Wednesday, an audience member asked Fields if he had encountered any problems during his rise through the ranks at Ford because of his Jewish background.

Fields, 45, said he was aware of the company's history when he applied for a job, but also was impressed by how much Ford had done to counter that in the intervening decades.

"I was struck when I came to the company how inclusive they are -- and we are," Fields said. "We have one of the strongest interfaith support networks, I think, of any company. We're actually a benchmark -- not only in the automotive industry, but outside the automotive industry -- in terms of encouraging diversity in our business."

Fields said Ford's workplace diversity efforts make sense from a business perspective, too.

"Ford is a very pragmatic company in saying, if you have the ability -- no matter if you're African-American, white, Jewish, Christian, Muslim -- whatever -- you will rise. And that's one of the reasons I'm so proud of the company."
 
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