Problem solver Padilla preaches back-to-basics

Padilla’s strengths
  • Manufacturing expert
  • Respected by UAW
  • Trusted by Scheele
    Padilla’s challenges
  • Lacks sales experience
  • No time to learn job
  • Demoralized management

  • DETROIT — Ford Motor Co.’s new catchphrase — “back to the basics” — was not invented in the wake of last week’s management shakeup. Jim Padilla had adopted it as his mantra before he was named chief of North American operations Tuesday, Oct. 30.

    In assignments at Jaguar Cars Ltd. and Ford Latin America, Padilla reorganized factories that were on the verge of breakdown. Those who know the 55-year-old veteran are confident he can repair nagging quality problems in Ford’s North American assembly plants.

    But Padilla, an acknowledged expert on lean manufacturing, has less experience in sales and marketing. During his stints at Jaguar and Ford of Brazil, Padilla did get involved in sales. But Padilla is likely to rely heavily on Ford Division chief Jim O’Connor for advice.

    Other key advisers will be Shamel Rushwin, chief of labor relations, and Kathleen Ligocki, chief of Ford’s North American strategy. Those executives reported to Nick Scheele before he was promoted to COO last week. A company source says they probably will remain in place.

    Reaching dealers

    Padilla wasted little time reaching out to dealers. In his first day on the job, he and Scheele held a televised question-and-answer session with Lincoln-Mercury dealers. During the 35-minute event, Padilla repeated his back-to-the-basics mantra and noted the need to improve product quality.

    In two other meetings that day — a session with black employees, plus a meeting with his subordinates — Padilla repeated his intention to reach out to dealers.

    “Padilla is going out of his way to be a missionary for the dealers,” said one company source.

    Despite his dealer efforts, Padilla will have a bigger impact on Ford’s manufacturing empire. Through the mid-1990s, Ford’s factories typically were among North America’s most efficient. But recently, product quality and efficiency have declined. Veteran UAW leaders blame several factors:

  • A generation of experienced factory managers was pushed into early retirement and replaced by younger, less experienced supervisors.

  • Ford launched a series of confusing initiatives to improve efficiency. Factory workers and managers had little time to adjust.

  • Ford botched key model launches after it tried to streamline its factory launch procedures. The Ford Focus’ North American launch “was the worst we ever had,” said Jeff Washington, president of Local 900 at the Wayne assembly plant in Wayne, Mich.

    Padilla’s back-to-basics prescription pleases Washington. “Padilla is a pretty straightforward guy,” he said. “When he tells you something, you can take it to the bank.”

    Blue-collar background

    Born and raised in Detroit, Padilla grew up in a blue-collar family of 11. According to one news report, he worked in a storm-door factory and sold suits in a department store.

    Padilla studied chemical engineering at the University of Detroit, while he supported himself with a part-time job in a Ford factory. In 1966, he took a job as a quality control manager and worked his way through Ford’s ranks. In the 1980s, he learned about lean manufacturing while working with Ford partner Mazda Motor Corp.

    From 1992 to 1994, Padilla applied his lean manufacturing lessons at Jaguar, which was burdened with antiquated factories, a disgruntled work force and poorly engineered cars. After Jaguar began to mend, Padilla was named president of Latin American Operations in 1996. There, he took over a company struggling to recover from a failed joint production and distribution venture with Volkswagen AG.

    At Ford’s Sao Bernardo do Campo assembly plant in Brazil, militant workers called frequent strikes to protest working conditions. Padilla worked patiently to resolve differences. He introduced just-in-time delivery and improved productivity.

    After Padilla left in 1998, Ford began losing money again. But union leaders credit Padilla for his efforts to improve relations. “Everything changed after Padilla’s arrival,” said Rafael Marques da Silva Jr., a union representative at Ford’s Sao Bernardo plant. “Padilla talked a lot with workers and suppliers to improve productivity.”

    Workers in North America can expect to see a lot of Padilla, who visits dozens of factories each year. And that’s fine by Washington, who spent hours with Padilla in meetings at the Wayne plant. Said Washington: “Padilla says we need to get back to the basics. We realize that, too.”

    -Special Correspondent Pedro Kutney in Sao Paulo, Brazil, contributed to this report

  • You can reach David Sedgwick at
    Tags: Jim Padilla

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