Shuffle at Ford looks like good news for Fields
Was last week a good one for Ford's President of the Americas Mark Fields?
Photo credit: GLEN TREIST
Although his name was not mentioned once in official statements about last week's executive shuffle at Ford Motor Co., President of the Americas Mark Fields may have been the biggest beneficiary.
Ford said two veterans and architects of its turnaround will retire: CFO Lewis Booth, 63, and global product development chief Derrick Kuzak, 60.
A knowledgeable dealer source, as well as a former Ford executive who keeps abreast of company politics, said late last week that Fields, 51, is moving a step closer to succeeding CEO Alan Mulally, 66.
On April 1, one of Fields' top allies at Ford -- Bob Shanks, controller for the Americas -- will succeed Booth.
Shanks: Worked closely with Fields
Shanks, 59, is a longtime associate of Fields from their days together at Mazda Motor Corp. in Japan, where Fields was president, as well as at Ford of Europe in Cologne and Premier Automotive Group in London.
Raj Nair, 47, currently Ford's vice president of engineering for global product development, will succeed Kuzak. Nair has worked under both Fields and Shanks. In his new post, he will report directly to Mulally but also to Fields on North American matters.
Shanks and Nair will be part of a new close-knit team of executives that Ford is grooming to make the transition from the Mulally-Booth-Kuzak generation that presided over Ford's recovery.
The new team, which has worked together around the world, is expected to lead Ford in a more stable era that will emphasize growth outside the United States.
Mulally stated again last week that he is in no hurry to retire.
Adam Jonas, chief auto analyst for Morgan Stanley, said: "Our view is the appointment of Shanks as CFO almost seals the deal that Fields will succeed Mulally. Shanks had been like Fields' personal CFO, if you will."
The former Ford executive concurred: "It seems the path is already very clear."
Joe Hinrichs, president of Asia Pacific and Africa and CEO of Ford Motor China Ltd. is considered Fields' chief rival for the top spot. And there was encouraging news for him last week, too.
Hinrichs, 45, is charged with boosting Ford's sales in Asia, where Ford is building seven plants. His success there will determine not only Ford's global success for years but also his own chances at the top job.
Last week, Ford underscored its intentions of growing in China, the world's largest car market, by naming Jon Huntsman Jr., a former U.S. ambassador to China, to its board of directors.
That move is likely to help Ford in China -- and, as a result, Hinrichs in the CEO race.
The retirements mark the end of this stage of Ford's comeback era. Booth's work in paying down the mountain of debt Ford took on to fund its restructuring is largely finished, although Ford's debt is still a notch below investment grade.
Likewise, Kuzak's work in unifying Ford's previously scattered product-development efforts has paid off with a global lineup of fuel-efficient vehicles that are selling well.
In a conference call with reporters, Mulally spoke only in general terms about the succession issue. "Our plan in Ford is to have a very strong succession plan for every position, including my own," he said.
"We have a very strong set of leaders that we continue to develop. We have a number of candidates for every position. We are pleased that Raj and Bob are going to step up now."
Sources say Kuzak nurtured Nair as his successor. Nair, a native of St. Louis who is of Indian descent, has experience in product development, manufacturing and purchasing. He has held positions in Ford's Asia Pacific and Europe regions, including a stint as vice president of operations for Asia Pacific and Africa.
Nair's background shows how the emerging new leaders have worked together on their way up. "That's what's really great about the team. Mark and I worked together" on materials cost management, Nair told Automotive News.
"I used to work for Bob Shanks and [Ford purchasing chief] Tony Brown, and John Fleming when he was director of manufacturing. I used to work for Joe Hinrichs."
Company: Ford Motor Co.
Career: Joined Ford in 1977. Key positions: Controller for the Americas, 2005-12; Vice president for operations support, finance and strategy at Ford of Europe and Premier Automotive Group, 2004-05; CFO, PAG, 2002-04; CFO, Mazda Motor Corp., 2002.
Education: Bachelor's in foreign service, Georgetown University, 1975; Master's in international management, American Graduate School of International Management, 1976.
Nair: A skilled and avid racer
Nair is one of a few executives rated for near-the-limit handling on Ford's test tracks. He is an avid road racer, although he has scaled back his time behind the wheel as his job duties have increased.
In 2004, his last year of active open-wheel racing, he won 12 of 18 races he entered, including the Waterford Hills Formula Continental championship in suburban Detroit, where he posted the fastest lap for all classes that year.
He also enjoys Formula Ford and Formula 2000 racing and is a motorcycle enthusiast.
Filling Nair's former post is another racing enthusiast: Hau Thai-Tang, 45, who was born in Saigon, Vietnam. He had been executive director of global product programs. Before that, Thai-Tang was responsible for Ford's SVT high performance group and led the launch of the 2005 Mustang. He was race engineer for Formula One racer Nigel Mansell and for Mario Andretti on Ford's Newman/Haas IndyCar team in 1993.
Morgan Stanley's Jonas said Thai-Tang's appointment is a good sign for Ford performance enthusiasts. "Hau Thai-Tang is seen as a rock star," he said. "If people were worried that Ford was going to start making boring cars, that's not going to happen."
Company: Ford Motor Co.
Career: Joined Ford in 1987. Key positions: Vice president of engineering for global product development, 2011-12; Vice president of operations, Asia Pacific and Africa region, 2008-10; Executive director of commodity business planning, 2006-08; Executive director of North American product development, responsible for all trucks and SUVs, 2004-06.
Education: Bachelor's in mechanical engineering, Kettering University, 1987.
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