It’s time to get off Nasser’s back

COMMENT
David Fry is president of Northwood University in Midland, Mich.

I think I have seen enough “Let’s Get Jacques” letters in Automotive News. How about trying some perspective on the subject?

Bill Ford Jr. and Nick Scheele are extraordinary men and certainly will lead Ford Motor Co. with style and strength. Anyone who has been there knows that making dramatic changes in an organization isn’t easy, especially when it involves a man who has dedicated his career to the company.

The changes were not vindictive or spiteful, nor were they without thought and agony. Reading the critical letters probably does not accurately reflect the deliberations.

Jacques Nasser dedicated his career to Ford. He saw the opportunity to add great names and product he could support or improve to the portfolio, and he did it, several times. He went after the best people in other organizations and brought some extraordinary people to Dearborn.

Nasser thought the company deserved a serious penalty-and-reward process to encourage the best in management, and he emulated perhaps the most successful model used elsewhere. When it needed tweaking to respond to the Ford culture, he did it.

Diversity and Blue Oval

Nasser knew that what the purchasers of vehicles thought about the product and the process would drive the success of not only his company but also the industry. So he restructured the way his customers, the dealers, were motivated to please the purchasers.

Blue Oval is far from the perfect device, and he knew that. No structure is ever best when first out of the box. But shaping the base of the industry by shaping the rewards to one’s customers is at least courageous, and the organization he built was certainly a learning organization (example: the lessons learned about manufacturer-owned retail channels).

Blue Oval will get better or transform to something else now, without losing sight of consumer satisfaction as the critical variable in future success.

Nasser acted on the belief that diversity goes beyond compliance, toward strategic advantage. When someone walked into his office there was always a “silent partner” there in the person of one of the bright, young professionals he was mentoring (true as well for his senior staff). As often as not, the young person’s demographics violated the gender/race/nationality norm. Nasser knew the company had to look like, think like and have values like the consumer base, globally.

Nasser put his money where his mouth was in terms of public service. He was actively involved and rewarded that in others. And he did not install bad tires on Explorers purposely. If congressional hearings are an example of anything, he wanted to solve problems in 30 minutes, not 30 days.

Ford Motor Co. is a vital and vividly important example of American and global enterprise. Its management today is strong and will prove the strength of its colleagues by shaping a successful future.

Yes, it is time to pay attention to building it right, launching it right and making partners of those in the distribution channel without whom one isn’t in business. And they will.

The best entrepreneurs

It is certain the dealers will respond with their best efforts to sell genuinely good products (the Ford Motor pipeline is full of them). Anyone privileged to know a few hundred Ford dealers knows that they are among the best entrepreneurs in the world — hardworking and straightforward. They are winners in every way.

Yes, there is stuff to fix and there are the people to fix it. While we are doing that, let’s remember it is done with the Ford Motor Co. that Jacques Nasser helped create, which is substantially enabled beyond what it was.

Maybe in the next few weeks, we’ll see letters to the editor in Automotive News from some of the people at Ford Motor who learned life lessons and benefited from recent brave initiatives and intend to use them to build the company to new heights. There are a lot of them.

Maybe they will have as much passion and courage as the recent spate of “Let’s Get Jacques” letters. My bet is that Bill Ford Jr. and Nick Scheele would value examples of “things gone right” upon which they can build.

Maybe we will all get on with the business of building an industry that gives more freedom of mobility, place and time than any other privately created business form ever in the history of humankind.

Let’s roll.

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