Fields out at Ford

New CEO Hack­ett known for turn­arounds

The Hamilton Spectator - - BUSINESS - DEE-ANN DURBIN AND TOM KRISHER

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.

PAUL SANCYA, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Bill Ford Jr., right, ex­ec­u­tive chair of Ford Mo­tor Com­pany, in­tro­duces Jim Hack­ett as CEO, in Dear­born, Mich., Mon­day.

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