Fields out at Ford
New CEO Hackett known for turnarounds
DEARBORN, MICH. — Ford is replacing CEO Mark Fields as it struggles to keep its traditional auto-manufacturing business running smoothly while remaking itself as a nimble, high-tech provider of new mobility services.
The 114-year-old automaker said Fields is retiring at age 56 after 28 years at the company. Fields will be replaced by Jim Hackett, a former CEO of office furniture company Steelcase Inc. who joined Ford’s board in 2013. Hackett has led Ford’s mobility unit since March of last year.
In a news conference Monday at Ford’s Dearborn headquarters, Hackett said Ford does a lot of things well, but is not as good at handling complex strategy questions. Hackett plans to have a small executive team that can set the company’s plans, communicate them clearly and make decisions quickly. That’s a contrast to Fields, who had 20 direct reports and was a product of Ford’s bureaucratic culture.
“The biggest challenge I had (at Steelcase), and I will have here, is to have everybody see the future. They can see their opportunity in that. And secondly, that it’s our right to win and we don’t have to cede that to anybody, Tesla or any of them,” Hackett said.
In three years as CEO, Fields began Ford’s transition from a traditional automaker into a “mobility” company, laying out plans to build autonomous vehicles and explore new services such as ride-hailing and car-sharing.
Under Fields, Ford achieved a record pre-tax profit of $10.8 billion US in 2015 as SUV and truck sales soared in the United States. But there were rumblings that Fields wasn’t focused enough on Ford’s core business. Popular products such as the Fusion sedan and Escape SUV grew dated. Ford lagged behind rivals in bringing longrange electric cars to the market. The stock price sagged — electric carmaker Tesla Inc. even passed Ford in market value earlier this year.
Hackett was the CEO of Steelcase for 20 years. He is credited with transforming that company, in part, by predicting the shift away from cubicles and into open office plans. He cut thousands of jobs and moved furniture production from the United States to Mexico.
In an interview, Ford Motor Co. executive chair Bill Ford called Hackett a “visionary” who knows how to remake a business.
“These are really unparalleled times, and it really requires transformational leadership during these times,” Bill Ford said.
Ford insisted Fields wasn’t fired. He called Fields “an outstanding leader” who orchestrated the company’s turnaround a decade ago when he was head of Ford’s Americas division. “He and I sat down Friday and really decided this was the right time for him to go and for us to have new leadership,” Ford said.
Fields resurrected Ford’s Lincoln brand and grew sales in China. His bet on using aluminum for trucks paid off in better fuel economy and strong sales. Fields opened an office in Silicon Valley to hire talented young researchers and scout out startups. But investors worried about Ford’s sliding U.S. market share and product decisions.
Bill Ford Jr., right, executive chair of Ford Motor Company, introduces Jim Hackett as CEO, in Dearborn, Mich., Monday.