New era at Ford

Programs might be jettisoned as vehicles become focus; restructuring continues

Changes at Ford
Changes announced Tuesday at the head of Ford Motor Co.
Who Was Is
William Clay Ford Jr. Chairman Chairman and CEO
Nick Scheele Group vice president for North America Chief operating officer; president, Ford Automotive Operations; board member
Jacques Nasser CEO Retired
James Padilla Group vice president for manufacturing and quality Group vice president for North America, reporting to Scheele
Carl Reichardt Retired chairman and CEO of Wells Fargo & Co. Ford vice chairman; chairman of the board's finance committee
Martin Inglis Chief financial officer Chief financial officer, reporting to Reichardt
Don Winkler Chairman and CEO of Ford Financial Chairman and CEO of Ford Financial, reporting to Reichardt

Ford Motor Co. CEO William Clay Ford Jr. on Tuesday said initiatives started by his predecessor, Jacques Nasser, may be cut in the coming effort to shift the automaker's focus back to its products.

The first member of founder Henry Ford's family to head the company in 22 years, Bill Ford Jr., 44, told reporters that "everything's up for review," during a news conference at the automaker's Dearborn, Mich., headquarters.

He declined to specify which programs might be jettisoned. He also refused to criticize Nasser directly but said the company has wandered "too far away" from its core business in recent years and noted that one of his first jobs will be to rebuild employee and dealer relations. Some of those relationships had soured under Nasser's three-year stint as CEO.

Ford Motor also named three powerful executives to oversee the company's troubled automotive and financial operations.

  • Nick Scheele, 57, is appointed Ford's chief operating officer and president of Ford automotive operations. He also is elected to the Ford board.

  • Carl Reichardt, 70, retired chairman and CEO of Wells Fargo & Co., is named vice chairman, reporting to Bill Ford Jr. Reichardt also will become chairman of the board's powerful finance committee. He has been a Ford board member since 1986.

  • James Padilla, 55, is named group vice president of Ford North America, succeeding Scheele.

    The changes end the tumultuous reign of CEO Nasser, 53, who tried to transform Ford into a consumer products company and an e-commerce powerhouse. But Nasser's relentless drive for change led the automaker to lose sight of its core car and truck business.

    Nasser pushed for organizational change, bringing in executives from outside the industry. He experimented with factory-owned dealerships and flirted with reaching customers directly over the Internet. But vehicle quality faltered, market share fell and profits tumbled. This month, Ford halved its dividend, announced its second consecutive quarter of losses and saw its credit rating sink two notches.

    At Tuesday's press conference, Bill Ford Jr. and Scheele made it clear that the company is returning to its core business of auto making.

    "There is no question we are going to have a renewed emphasis on the car and truck business,'' Bill Ford Jr. said. "That is our goal. We know we can do it. We've done it before. We have to get back to it.''

    The job of turning around auto operations falls to Scheele and Padilla, two executives who revived ailing Jaguar in the 1990s.

    Scheele defined the job.

    "We are a car and truck company,'' he said. "A car and truck company designs, builds and sells great products. So back to basics means you emphasize product and quality.

    "Back to basics operationally means you release an engineered part on time, you source them on time, you get them delivered on time. You then produce job one on time, at quality and at the right volume that the dealers are calling for,'' Scheele said.

    The company is halfway through the task of creating a turnaround plan for its North American operations, Scheele said. Ford has said it will restructure by yearend.

    Scheele declined to speculate whether job cuts beyond what has already been announced is in the offing. The company expects to cut up to 5,000 white-collar jobs by the end of 2001. He also wouldn't say whether the company would shutter any plants as part of the restructuring plan.

    He did say the company wouldn't follow DaimlerChrysler AG's lead and demand an across-the-board price reduction from suppliers. He said the company will work with suppliers on a case-by-case basis to find ways to improve quality, reduce price and speed delivery.

    Bill Ford Jr. acknowledged that the company had lost its focus.

    "We lost our focus in several areas,'' Bill Ford Jr. said. "Some of it may be chasing strategy. But some of it may have been outside events like Firestone that weighed heavily in terms of management distraction.''

    Bridgestone/Firestone Inc.'s recall of tires linked to deadly accidents, many mounted on the Ford Explorer, damaged Ford's image and is costing the automaker $2.1 billion.

    The costly tire recall and its impact on Ford's balance sheet are among the reasons the company tapped Reichardt.

    "During Carl's tenure as Wells Fargo CEO the company's stock rose 1,688 percent,'' Bill Ford Jr. said.

    Reichardt described his assignment as "open-ended.''

    "I intend to stay here until the automobile side of the company is straightened out,'' he said. Ford CFO Martin Inglis will report to Reichardt. Don Winkler, chairman and CEO of Ford Financial, also will report to Reichardt.

    Reichardt also serves as a board director to ConAgra Inc., HCA – The Healthcare Company; HSBC Holdings plc; McKesson HBOC Inc.; Newhall Management Corp.; and PG&E Corp., according to the Ford proxy statement.

    Reichardt and Scheele will join Bill Ford Jr. in the company's office of the chairman and CEO, a unit created in July by the Ford board. Bill Ford Jr.'s authority and decision-making role within the company grew at that time, signaling the board's desire to curtail Nasser's aggresssive strategy.

    Bill Ford Jr. dismissed the notion that he is assuming the CEO position because his last name is Ford.

    "I have a track record,'' he said. "I would hope our board of directors takes the job a little more seriously than putting in a guy who happens to have the right last name.''

    The move returns the CEO's job to a Ford family member for the first time since Henry Ford II ran the company. Henry Ford II resigned as CEO in 1979.

    Ford's board of directors approved the changes at an 8:30 a.m. meeting Tuesday, Oct. 30, Bill Ford Jr. said.

    While Nasser, whose retirement ends his 33-year tenure with Ford, has been the recipient of much of the blame for recent company blunders, he also has been credited for changing much of the company's corporate culture and for reinvigorating the company's product line.

    Nasser was praised by Wall Street for his attention to financial details and by industry insiders for a true love of automobiles when he took the reins in 1999.

    But his attention was diverted by the Firestone furor and the deterioration of Ford's U.S. business.

    During the first part of his tenure, Nasser oversaw one of the most profitable periods in Ford history, and he launched a slew of projects aimed at transforming the company. A partial list includes subsidizing computers for employees, starting a massive "Six Sigma" quality improvement plan, making deals with high-tech companies such as Yahoo! and Oracle, and setting strict targets for employee performance and hiring minority workers.

    Under Nasser, Volvo and Land Rover became part of Ford's sprawling empire.

    But since the Firestone recall, bad news has plagued the automaker. Sales and profits stumbled as competitors brought out new models faster than Ford. Despite Six Sigma, Ford's quality lagged even GM and Chrysler.

    Employees sued over a grading system and the diversity targets implemented by Nasser. The system was later scrapped. Dealers threatened mutiny over their own grading system. Some of the deals with high-tech companies had to be written off as worthless.

    Bill Ford Jr. said he and Nasser attempted to fix many of the company's problems in July by consolidating their leadership into an Office of the Chairman and CEO. Under that structure, Bill Ford had more say in the day-to-day operations of Ford and regularly met with Nasser.

    But Bill Ford Jr. said in recent days he lost faith in that plan, and it became evident that a change was needed.

    "Jac and I sat down yesterday afternoon and decided this is probably the time and the right thing to do,'' he said. "Until very recently both Jac and I felt that the model we had in place was going to work.''

    But "the overwhelming pressure from our consituents and the media'' distracted the company "almost to a paralysis point,'' Bill Ford Jr. said. "It was clear to Jac and I that we needed to make a move.''

    Bill Ford Jr. said the company is still negotiating with Nasser over the terms of his departure.

    Bill Ford Jr. was elected Ford chairman in September 1998 and took office on Jan. 1, 1999. The great grandson of company founder Henry Ford, Bill Ford Jr. describes himself as a lifelong environmentalist.

    Reuters contributed to this report

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